A wee while ago we traveled down Route 66 from Chicago to California. We did not get to eat any lasagna on our travels. Because no-one wants any lasagna other than Mama’s. I am going to part with my old family lasagna recipe. I have no photos of the dish itself as it is very hard to make it look pretty. I like my lasagna saucy. So instead I will show you some of the service stations we found on the way across the country via as much of Route 66 as we could find. Then you have something to look at as you are cooking.
We live a stone’s throw (well a long throw with a very good arm and just the right stone) from Route 66. In fact I am going to get my hair done in a little hairdressers ON Route 66 this morning. What? You thought I was a natural blonde. Oh that is so kind! But no, my blonde needs a little chemical encouragement. My Friend who is a natural blonde says it is blondes like me that give real blondes a bad name. Really! How unkind! I have to point out that she would be saying this in her NZ drawl, as she tipped her natural blonde head back, to tip a lively East Coast Sauvignon Blanc down her tipply throat. I love that girl!
lasagna! Take your time. One of the secrets to this recipe is long cooking of the sauce. Then a lovely settling cook in the oven once constructed. So a rainy afternoon is perfect. The rain is not madatory to the taste but it does help!
1. One large onion, and one small stick of celery sliced and diced and slowly, slowly cooked in butter until transparent. Then add two cloves of garlic finely sliced and toss for about 30 seconds,with a tiny bit more heat, until they are fragrant.
2. Add one can of dark red kidney beans, washed. Quickly toss about in the onions and garlic. I love a good toss in a recipe don’t you? It is fun to bounce food around in the pan. Remember the three second rule if anything hits your perfectly clean floor!
3. Add two cans of good Italian tomatoes or your blended summer sauce. A couple of fistfuls of basil. And a chilli to taste(without its seeds unless you are quite, quite crazy). This is not meant to be spicy. Then cook stirring often for at least an hour and a half. Reducing until it gets thicker.
4. Add one medium sized chopped zucchini. Once the zucchini starts to soften begin to stir and lightly pound with your potato masher. Mash up some of the soft beans and zucchini into the sauce this helps the sauce thicken. Make sure your beans are soft before you play with the masher though.
5. When you are almost done add a jar of tomato conserva or a little tin of tomato paste. Not yet though. Your sauce may catch on the bottom of the pot once you do this so be careful. And half a teaspoon of sugar. I do not know why but the tiny bit sugar has to be in there. It is tradition. Of course lots of pepper and salt to taste.
While your lovely sauce is simmering after Step 3. Make your pasta. Zap your little internet wand, click on the word pasta and go over to Bartolini Kitchens and grab his recipe. It is very very simple and very very tasty. You know how I like simple and tasty. But really I was at the kneading stage is seconds!! Well, it felt like seconds but you know how time flies when you are having fun. After your dough has rested, been rolled and cut into sheets and when your sauce is good and saucy. Time to construct your lasagna.
Now be kind to yourself. If you do not have ricotta, use cottage cheese. If you do not have egg plant use thawed, drained frozen spinach. If you hate both use mushrooms (pan fried in nothing until moisture evaporates.) I think I am saying just use whatever veg you have on hand, that you love to eat, that will hold its form but become soft in the cooking.
To construct your lasagna. Spoon a generous layer of sauce into the base of your greased DEEP dish. Always start with sauce. Then a sheet of lasagna pasta. A layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna, layer of egg-plant (sliced, dried and lightly fried in olive oil, drained) or spinach fresh or frozen. Layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna, layer of ricotta or cottage cheese, layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna, layer of eggplant, or spinach and then sauce and lasagna until finished. You get the picture. Start with sauce and end with sauce the rest you can make up. Leave enough space at the top so the mixture can bubble in the oven without making another mess! My oven is a fright if I forget.
Grate your fantastic homemade cheddar, or a nice sharp tasty one from the store, mix with a handful of breadcrumbs and pile on top. Make sure the cheese mixture covers your lasagna, think of it as a lid to keep in the moisture!
Pop into a medium oven, and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes or golden brown. Serve with a big herby green salad.
Note: Make more sauce than you think you need because you always need more! Any leftover sauce goes into the freezer.
Now I had better go and try to drag a brush through my hair before I go to the hairdressers. You know how that is!!
My Mother had a spider, who sat down beside her and lived in her wash-house (in our house we called the laundry the wash-house). This spider was called Elizabeth. A perfectly lovely name for a spider I always thought. Anyway Mum said that she did not do major housework in the wash-house because it might disturb Elizabeth. Mother hated flies and Elizabeth loved to spin with them so they worked together in the wash house very happily for a number of years. Yes, YEARS… mm, I hear you say. I did not realise that spiders had that long a life span. Well they may not have but Mothers ability to make up stories to avoid housework lasted many years. Of course I am doing my best to keep her memory alive by adopting spiders and avoiding housework at all costs too. I do relocation housework, it is the best kind. Remind me and I will explain the concept to you one day.
Below is a spider. This is not Elizabeth. This is called The Big Spider. Now you might think that The Big Spider is not a very original name. But we also have a dog referred to as The Big Dog. And you know how married people have pet names for things. Well when Our John comes in from the garden and says there is a Big Spider by the Wendy house I grab my camera and go to the woodshed expecting to find this guy. And so I did. (No this is not the revolting shot)
The Big Spider is a protected species in the gardens because this spider has a huge web, he will run 3 foot lines to trees on either side of his web because he is after a big catch. So in fact it is hard to get a shot of him without disturbing him with all that webby stuff everywhere. He is waiting for the quiver. He is very big, from foot to foot about as big as the palm of your hand. (No this is not the revolting shot either)
Then I took this just to terrify myself a little further and when I looked back to shoot again he had disappeared. GONE. Gone Where!!! I have to confess that I brushed my hands wildly all over my body as I leapt without looking, back out of the garden. I am not afraid of spiders but it is hard not to get some prime -evil shudder when you don’t know where the little buggers are hiding. I hate it when they do that. I left the spider then, as I could not bear the thought of it scuttling around like that.
And off I went to check my hives.
But look at this. My poor hive. No I did not have a bear! We don’t even have bears here! I did this taking the hive apart after I discovered ruined comb from the DREADED wax moth. He had to be found and rooted out but he was already all over the place in there.Usually this moth and their clean up larvae live in a symbiotic relationship with a strong chemical free hive. The bees move them along quite smartly. And sometimes they will pop into the hive and clean up an old unguarded area before being shuffled out by the bees. But when a hive is weak, and combined with a cold snap (last week) which means the bees leave their doorways unguarded (to cuddle up against the cold), these hideous creatures get in and will take over and move further into the warm dark nest and the larvae burrow in and eat the brood. Bad bad wax moth. Yes, this was one of the weaker hives. I am so mad I could just spit. This is the revolting shot!
I have taken off the two infested supers. Ripped out the nasties. I will wrap them in black plastic and store them in the shed. The freezing temps in the winter will kill what moths are left and then I will have to take out each foundation and burn it. A winter job.
Two interesting things. I was able to take this whole hive apart and brush the bees into their one clean super without smoke or protective gear, in a short skirt and singlet. My only extra gear was gloves. Not a peep. A depressed hive indeed. Plus there is another underlying cloying smell in amongst the honey scent. I think it comes from the damaged comb. So this can be an extra warning trigger for me next time. Now I know that this next image is out of focus but really it is the sentiment. You will agree I am sure. Go little fly guy!! What a mess.
What I should have done.
Listened to my instincts and made the hive smaller a few months ago. Initially I was so afraid of them swarming again that I gave them too much room, they were not able to guard it all and with the weather cooling – the moths got in.
Or I should have combined this hive with another stronger one much earlier. Instead of trying to build up a hive that was too weak.
Now the really bad news is that Our John fell off the wagon yesterday, caved in, succumbed and went to the supermarket and bought BAD stuff! And brought it home in plastic bags – PLASTIC BAGS! Little plastic containers of fake food in Plastic bags! I was appalled. I won’t tell you what he bought, it will make you sick in your mouth! I said what is all this Unclean Fake Food in my kitchen, my voice rising to an hysterical tone and he says well there was nothing in the fridge for my lunch. I spluttered (as you do) and stomped a bit.
Today I am making a pound cake. Maybe a bacon and egg pie. Hopefully that help pull him back from the brink. WELL! I ask you .. mutter mutter.. it is hard only eating the food you cook yourself with the stuff you grow yourself, but living simply is not always that simple! AND (please don’t tell anyone) the words LOW FAT were stamped on the side of the container that he was eating out of with a spoon – the horror of it.)
Told you not to look.
I have been writing in the world of Blog since July 4, 2011. So you can imagine my surprise when I was asked to join the illustrious cast of the 7 Links Challenge and have a go myself. It is really hard to describe the feelings that are generated when you watch your readers popping in and out of the pages on your own blog. It is not like sending work away to be edited and printed. This is instant coffee. This is personal. This is right now. This is sitting around my table. This is just so much FUN with a little pressure thrown in just to keep me on my toes.
And this 7 Links Challenge is so hard! My body of work is so slim and most of it still cooling. It is like having to pull SEVEN really excellent shots out of ONE roll of film. However the challenge gives me a chance to look back and do some searching myself.
Thank you ChgoJohn from the Bartolini Kitchens for issuing this challenge and consequently scaring me half to death. His food is great so pop over there and have a look. I love him because he loves tomatoes!
Most Popular Post :
Even reading the word popular is exciting for me and sexy on the farm has been the most popular so far. And a good one to start with as it is a wee roundup of all the characters on the wee farmy. Now, you have to do the voices. With all the accents. I will be listening. No cheating.
Most Controversial Post:
Not controversial really, just fun. Ten tips on surviving a heatwave People were awfully hot this summer, suffering from the heat, the news was full of it. It was murderous outside and then I publish this flippant piece. I did not mean to be flippant. OK you got me. I did. But I have to say that some people would moan if their arses were on fire. It is either too hot or too cold or too something. So I bite my thumb at them. How did the weather become NEWS anyway.
Most helpful Post :
How about this one. capturing a swarm of bees. Well, I think that should you ever wander out into your yard or onto your terrace or into your bathroom and discover a swarm of bees sat in your tree or your pot plant glaring solemnly back at you then you would find this a very helpful page. Don’t you think? Nice little fluffy bees.
Most beautiful post:
For me piles of fresh vegetables at a farmers market in chicago are the most beautiful. If you are not into vegetables just scroll past them and look at the naughty naughty sheep at the end of that post! But I love this post. I do see the irony (these are not MY vegetables) but oh they are gorgeous. However just out of interest which post did you think was the most beautiful because I had a really hard time with this criteria.
Most surprisingly successful post :
This one I put together for a new bloggie friend who is going to get her first bees next year and asked me what flowers to plant hence flowers for bees It was quick and easy and pretty. This was the first page I wrote that attracted readers who I did not know. Which really did surprise me. And pleased me! Of course. And now look!
Most under-rated post :
This was a little story about some cows in church. It only made a wee splash. But I just love it. I loved the sounds in it.
The Post I am Most Proud of :
I have agonised over this. I do not have a post that is perfect yet. I am still working at getting it just right. Now, I know it should be a post, but it is actually a shot in a post, that I am most proud of. I took this out of the train window as I was being whisked up to the Big City a few weeks ago.
I love this shot because it roars along just like you and I do. Here is the post that goes with this image taken on the way to chicago I love this city and have only just begun my exploration of it.
My last task is to pass forward this challenge. If any of you have done this before I am sorry, I did not know. Mainly I am nominating you because I want you to show us your work. And I want everyone to see your work because you are some of my favs!
Most blogs are new to me and these ones strike a chord. I do recommend a look.
Whew! Now back to work. I had better get out and do some weeding. There are huge weeds actually growing IN through my bedroom window. I don’t think they are meant to be doing that.
Yesterday we were on Route 66 and we found an amazing working drawbridge. I am now a confirmed drawbridge stalker. I am gobsmacked by the engineering and sheer weight of the components and how they all link into each other. Plus as the traffic roars across, the bridge jiggles something terrible which lends a certain amount of excitement. (Not to mention wild camera shake.) This photo here is really only a context shot, so scroll past this one at speed.
Just plain, hardworking. Look at all the grease on these um…. what do you call those things that guide the cogs? Or are they the cogs? Someone will know and maybe drop the info into a comment box for us.
And here is the pier where our Riverboat and my darling little Tug (see yesterdays page) are moored. Marooned at a mooring. You can see the wall I walked along yesterday with my camera. If you follow that long straight wall right to the center of the shot you will see where the boats are hiding. Pretty hidden, aye.
It is possible that this river feeds into another river that feeds into the Mississippi. Which means that my little Tug could take me right across America maybe even to New Orleans. If only I could find a way to liberate Little Tug from its chains! ( What is that children’s book about the little Tug boat that ended up out at sea. Nope that memory is too distant for me.)
I am going to find a way back in, you know. The locks on the gates were old but there must be someone who knows something – so I can get the key and have a proper look and maybe get all the way out onto this pier. I desperately want to know the story. There is a story here. I will keep you posted.
This morning we awoke to a gentle warm rain. How I love that sound. All the weeds will be easy to pull under the grapes today so once the bread is rising and I have started the tomatoes cooking – off out I go!
I am very tempted to write ‘Toot Toot’ now, but I won’t. Too weird.
Yes, yes I know that an abandoned river boat and a tug have nothing to do with sustainable little farms. However I could slide these shots in if we put them in under the banner of preservation or .. um.. recycling!. We had to drive up to Chicago today and on the way back we wandered a little on Route 66 and it took us along the river. I saw a bridge I wanted to investigate and then another one (I will show you those shots tomorrow) and as I walked to the bridge I peered through an overgrown padlocked gate and I saw this. Hhmm I thought to myself. As you do.
Well. So with the help of Our John and a pallet and some other junk that he found and turned into a ladder, then the infamous leg up – I managed to climb over the No Tresspassing sign. And the You Have Been Warned sign, No Go Area sign, the One Way Street sign and the We Shoot Stray Dogs sign, way up onto this enormous, very high but wide concrete wall. I have to add here that of course I was wearing a vintage 1940’s dress, but I had just kicked the silly heels off in the grass. Over this wall was a wonderland of junk. I LOVE JUNK! This place was heaving with piles of stuff. Abandoned. Like someone walked away to get their lunch 10 years ago and just never came back.
I could see no way across this strip of water so I had to be content with my concrete wall. I walked down further, trying to get a better shot of this amazing decaying riverboat but now of course I was TOO CLOSE! But then I found this. Well here was a treasure indeed. An old Tug. Such a beautiful little dinky toy of a boat, just big enough for me.
Everything paled into insignificance when I saw that little boat. I want that little boat. I want this one. “I found a little boat, it is just right. Can I take it home?” I called back to John waiting on dry land for me. Our John said No. No? NO! No boats.
So I stomped all the way back along my wall, climbed back down in a pretend huff refusing his helpful hand and ended up with the skirt of my dress flying up over my head, and landing with an Alice of Wonderland thump on the grass. That was OK. Teensy bit unglamorous. At least I had let John hold the camera. So we laughed at me for a bit which is always fun and off home to the animals and the gardens.
This afternoon we are sowing more lettuce seed, and spinach in big pots close to the house where they get a bit of shade in the afternoon. It is still hot. Summer is still here. But we need greens for the Fall.
ps. and yes I can see that hair on the sensor. I didn’t think you would mind. Out with the huff and puff tomorrow.
You will NOT believe what Hairy has done to his hair.
Evidently in the night he must have snuck out to see that French Fleece-Dresser down the road and has turned up this morning with a very cool DO. Apparantly Mama is still not coming out to play so he is pulling in his beer gut and tarting himself up a bit.
I Have to say that these pictures do not do justice to this terribly interesting piece of work. There is a lot of green and pink in there as well.
More importantly. I am going to make a New Zealand Steak Pie today. In NZ every gas station, every store, every cafe, every bakery has a pie oven filled with small steak pies. You grab your little brown paper bag, and whip the pie of your choice from the pie oven and then eat it straight OUT OF THE BAG. This is very important. This is something we all learned at our mothers knee of course. How to eat a meat pie, while it is REALLY hot and dripping with dark heavy gravy, encased in the flakiest of flaky pastry in the world without making a mess!
It is a point of honour to be able to eat your hot hot pie whilst driving, cleaning a small child’s face, switching channels on the radio and honking loudly at those bad mannered drivers. Crumbs in your lap take off points, but hot gravy on your chin and you are disqualified. It is an artform. A lot of practice is needed. Not too much or you will ‘put on the pies” NZ for get fat. In the US people say “mm I feel like pie” they say what kind , custard, pecan etc. In NZ we say ‘mm I feel like a pie’ and they say ‘Buy me one too!’
There is steak and cheese, steak and onion, steak and mushroom, potato topped. Chicken and apricot, smoked fish, bacon and egg. And many many more. DROOLING YET!? We will make a family sized steak and onion pie today that you can eat with a knife and fork. Phew I hear you say.
Go for the All Butter Pie Crust. So before we start, go and get half a pound of butter, chop it up into little blocks and then pop it into the freezer.
He thought you might like a closer look. Evidently there are lots of grass seeds and weed seeds woven in somehow.! Must have taken ever such a long time.
Make the pastry, form two balls, wrap and return to the fridge. Keep chilled always.
You are going to love this. Maybe we will put some cheese in too. By the way this is my gift to all the NZers in the US and all the USers who love the NZers in the US and want to make them a special treat. And all the USers in the US who want to eat like a NZer in NZ. Please don’t make me repeat that!
1. In a big heavy bottomed pot, slice two big onions thinly, butter in the pan, and saute on extra low for about 15 minutes. When they are transparent, cover very thinly in balsamic vinegar and reduce until balsamic is gone but still shiny. Remove onions to a dish to wait.
2. Using a reasonably good cut of beef. I rummaged in the freezer and found a piece of sirloin. Slice into 1 inch cubes. In small batches toss in butter until browned, pouring off and saving all the juice each time.
3. Combine meat and onions, pepper and salt, Beef stock to cover, beef juice, soy sauce and worcester sauce, herbs (thyme for me),a touch of your favourite chilli sauce – all to taste and if you have any – a teaspoon of marmite. Cook slowly uncovered for at least an hour or until the meat is very tender but holding its shape. In fact the longer you cook it the better. Add more beef stock if it starts to get dry.
4. Thicken with corn powder or corn starch mixed with some of the gravy. I know this is cheating but it is TRADITION! Not gluggy but not runny. Sit to the side to cool slightly.
Taste and Pause.
Chop about 4 fat slices of cheese into cubes, put to the side.
Nope. No reaction at all. Poor Hairy. You are going to have to pull out all the stops buddy.
Now moving swiftly. Roll out two sheets of pastry the right size for your dish. Line the dish, add the meat, sprinkle with cheese cubes, cover with the next sheet of pastry. Pinch the edges together quickly but carefully. Decorate with left over bits of pastry. Make three little slits in the top for air to escape. Into the hot oven. Every oven I have ever cooked in has needed different cooking times. I am using gas now and so it takes about 45 minutes at 400. When that pastry is high and puffy and golden browned, and you think the bottom is well cooked. (Sometimes you can slide a knife in there and lift to see.) Bring your pie out and place onto some kind of trivet so the bottom will cool as well.
However we never let it cool for long. We eat it too hot!
In my home this is always served with mashed potatoes. Try this new one. YUM. Today we are also having marinated tomatoes. These are terribly easy. Evidently Our Johns tomatoes are going to be fruiting until the end of time! So we still have tomatoes at every meal. And I am not sick of them yet!
Now I have done this all backwards today. I have written you the recipe BEFORE I make it. So please refer to my friends links above for gorgeous food pictures and I am off into the kitchen.
Now if I were to open a pie shop. My grandmother had a pie shop in the 40’s but that is another story. What (savoury) fillings would you like me to make for you?
Tomorrow I am going to talk about your autumn gardens. Hope you have all started! There is growing time left you know! Hopefully!
I jabbed Daisy on Monday with her hormone injection, the first of three. (We are trying for a baby.. cannot make cheese without milk, cannot make milk without a baby) She gave me a filthy look and still has not forgiven me. This morning she wandered into the barn where I was mucking out and very purposefully stood on my foot. I mean really stood on my foot, then she slowly leaned forward, pressing as much weight onto my foot as she could and said, ‘So you like that. Giving people pain like that?’ I am wacking her ineffectually on the neck . Bad cow, ow, get off! bad cow! Wacking her big long thick neck with my tiny hand, I am 118 pounds to her 1000 this is really not fair. She grins evilly at me. ( Cows can grin evilly you know.) Then slowly she drags her bony hoof off my broken foot.
Daisy has a personality disorder and here comes her other personality (tiny girlie voice) “Oh, I am so sorry, darling. Was that your foot, sweetness? I just did not see that little foot way down there. You want to lift up your widdle foot and I will kiss it better. Poor little pumpkin. I love pumpkins. Oh I feel terrible and here you are so kind to me and not Jabbing me in the Ass with a needle this morning.” She raises her foot again. (tone changes down to flat out mean) ‘Got any treats, Human!’ I climb over the gate. An expedient exit.
As I limp through the lambs paddock to the chook house I can hear Mama and Hairy having some kind of serious chat in their new paddock behind me.
Mama (mama sheep) and Hairy McLairy (daddy sheep) have been reunited, it is time. Hairy immediately started to follow her around, stretching his head out, sniffing at her in an uncommonly rude manner. He holds his mouth in such a funny way that his teeth show. Really not a good look. She trots along ahead of him just out of reach.
If Hairy were to speak I imagine that his voice would have a smooth, smoky dripping with sex, French accent.(please use a smooth, smoky, dripping with sex French accent when reading this bit. All sex and woo hoo hoo and bonjour madame, wink wink,)
Hairy Mclairy : mm hmm my darling, my little weed petal, my smelly love cushion, my fallen angel in the grass, you have come home to me. I have been watching you from afar through the wire bars of my really big cage and you are ‘an’some, you are beeuutiful, so sexy, all woman, you have come back to me ..
mama trots on – (please use east end, fag in your mouf, been around the block a couple of times, grown up guttersnipe, street girl, voice. )
Mama: Bugger off ya filfy blighter! Ya big ugly sod. Gerroff ya git. Ya oik! (I love the word oik) I saw you with that fat cow, you two’ve been shacked up all summer, love cushion, my arse. Go on…. git. Out of it. You dirty old ram. You want them fat. I’ll give ya fat. Stop your snivveling.. ya oik, (still love it) you’ve been drinkin’ aven’t ya. Not sharing neiver! Ya haven’t lost any weight off your fat arse though ‘ave ya..
Their voices fade as I limp across the little home meadow to the chook house.
Rooster in the Chook House: Everybody! Pay attention please! (clap of wings). Please, don’t make me raise my voice. Wings up if you are listening!. Miss c is coming. Look lively there. Michelle put the lid back on the feed bin, quick into the eggboxes look like you actually lay an egg once in a while. Quietly rolling that water bucket back, Nina, I told you it is not a toy, you want her to hear you, think you are a thieving chicken? Quick wake up, wake up, off your perches, Tessa start pecking. Because I am the boss thats why (strut strut) Toot, scratch stuff, forget about your nails – scratch, look busy, get off my desk Lily, Miss c is on her way. One to an eggbox esmeralda, one at a time you foolish chicken. No back chat – I am The Rooster. Hmm. Short stuff go see where she is. Let me know when she is close, Miranda did you poo on top of the door again so it falls on her head, you know she hates that. That is such a nasty low down chicken trick. Lay that egg Marylou, lay that egg – this is not a holiday farm! What?. because it is your job, quit whining… get busy. Chop chop!
I had to seperate Mia (ewe lamb) from her mother so I have put The Murphy’s (lambs for the freezer are all called Murphys) in with Mia in this little meadow with good green fattening grass.
Mia: Miss c! Miss c.! (gallops over) The Murphy’s are being mean. Tell them off. Tell them off! They banged my head. They did the head butting thing. I just wanted to play with them. You brought them in for a play date didn’t you? They are not staying in my meadow forever are they? No! They are so rough. I hate them! I am their sister. They won’t listen to me at all! Can I tell them you are going to eat them, can I? Can I? Can they go now, can I help you put them in the trailer can I, can I? Oh Miss c. Have you got a sore foot? Oh let me see, oh no poor you, was it that big fat cow? oo sorry my little hoofys are a bit sharp, they’re just new, sorry, sorry. I can keep up with you, you know, because I am a big lambie. I will help you feed the chicks. OO Miss c is that Marys Cat? Hi Marys Cat. You walked all this way by your little self. On those little furry feet? Why don’t you have a real name Mary’s Cat, like me. I am Mia, can you say Mia? Ow WAAA. Miss c they did it again. They snuck up on me and head bashed me again. She’ll chop you UP!! WAA. Ya wanna come here and say that! Come on then. Lets see what ya got!.
WAA. Look Look ! BONK Quick. miss c look by the rock. Help her. OW BASH. The Murphy is touching my kitty. THUD Help. They are trying to steal my kitty! I hate you, you are ruining my life!
After feeding the chooks, who had no eggs from me I went to visit the calves. The steer (all steers are called Bobby) and my sweet little Hereford who, when she is grown, will be the mother of my organic, grass fed, beef herd (fingers crossed) – Queenie Wineti. They both lift their heads, and silently search me from afar for any signs of food, then sigh with bovine resignation, and return to the grass. Ok.
Well I guess everyone is present and accounted for. Now for my morning coffee. TonTon I do not want those guineas, quit herding them with me everywhere I go. Go home. All cats and dogs go home. No Mia. Go play nicely with your brothers. I have kitty. Breakfast time for me.
One more story. Just one and then we HAVE to get back to farming. Spring fever starts in the autumn you know and I have to get out the calenders and charts and do some planning. Then open and shut some gates. So, one more story and then back to work.
We are going to Kumara but I am cutting in some shots I took in and around a similiar little town on a hot summer day, in the North Island of New Zealand. This is not Kumara in the South Island and in the 60’s but Onga Onga in the North Island last year. But it is NZ. Not ideal but ah well, I took photos with my eyes back when I was a kid And those only print into words.
So, we are going back to New Zealand. We are going back to the mid 1960’s. The Christmas Holidays were our long school holidays. It was high and dry summer. Our summers are Long and Hot. When we were children we would go to stay with my grandparents in Christchurch, in the South Island of New Zealand, every summer.
This particular holiday period the whole family had decamped to another house my grandfather owned in a tiny place on the West Coast called Kumara. Kumara is so small that you could ride a dusty horse carrying three skinny freckled sunkissed children on its bare back, very slowly, down the dusty main road from one end to the other, in about 3 minutes. It has hills and mountains on either side and the valley is so isolated that in those days the locals didn’t even give you a nod hullo, let alone the word, until you had lived there for fifty years. Or so the story goes.
It is an old gold mining town. The hills around are filled with the remnants of many decayed old gold mining towns. This town was still standing, a bit wobbly but it stood with its big roomy houses surrounded by big sagging wooden verandahs. It still had its broken down grand hotel and gorgeous church and lonely store that was always well stocked with icecream.
Gold was still being mined in the summer I am taking you there. Back when I was a small child of the 60’s. There was an old gold dredge that was still working its way up the river that ran past Kumara. The dredge sang. All day it sang and all night it sang. In my memory there were no men on this dredge. It was from another time. It was a whole orchestra in itself. It conducted itself. It stood high, dark and long. It moved with infintisimal unstoppable tiny steps, shuffling through and sucking at the shingle of the river bottom with its own terrible agenda. Every single moving part was metal, and every metal part met another metal part and each metal meeting was a different tone and note and rhythm. The shingle being lifted and washed and dumped rattled in under this lilting hitchy squealing jazz, like a brush on a drum. It was a lazy rhythm, and so repetitive a groove, that this myriad of sound worked its way in under your mind, right to the base of your spine and into your lungs. Your heartbeat slowed to its march and all summer we gently slumbered along to this soundtrack. It was our bird song and our footsteps.
Except on Sundays.
On Sundays it stopped itself and rested. The silence was a hole in the ground. It was a touchable stillness. The lack of our soundtrack was a massive sound in itself. All Sunday things were strange. Edgy. Grown ups were irritable. The air got hotter. No-one was hungry.
My family was Catholic so on Sunday morning we were instructed to wash and put on clean clothes and SHOES! (the worst bit) and we all walked en masse down the road to the church. Led by grandma and pa, and some mums and dads (the house was big and often there were fifteen and sixteen or more people staying there.) I will get to the food another day. Today we are going to church.
I was never a particularly pious child. Though I was very good at looking prayerful. I must has been 5 or 6 in this story so going to church was not a choice nor was it a chore. It just was. I watched the light that filtered in through the stained glass windows, brightening the saints glass eyes and was quite content to just be sat for a moment just watching. I was small enough to be able to slip to the kneeler when Mum had her eyes shut and crane my head down to look across the floor and through the legs to watch the fluff balls rock in the cool from the big open church doors, the heat would be pushed along the floor by wafts of a tiny breeze. The silence hung around us.
Now this church had an extra attraction for us kids. Other than sitting there in our outrageously clean ‘good’ clothes, being pounded into submission by the quiet and churchy murmurs. This church had a cat. A big big fluffy brown cat. This cat slept on a rug at the foot of the altar and when it was time for the sermon it would rise and pad after the priest and plant itself over there and watch us as he spoke. It seemed to know we were paying no attention to the priest and would gaze about the children’s faces looking for bad thoughts. Or was it us he was watching so silently?
Because here comes the other attraction. Pan away from the cat, across the dusty wooden floorboards, and crawl in under the pews where I was and you will see dogs. Puffing, filthy, long, rangy, sleeping, tail wagging,smelly, one eye open, old as the hills, farm dogs.
I sat under there watching the dogs, who had one eye on the cat and thought about my own dog who could count and knew stuff. The congregation shuffled preparing to sing, the organ started up sounding alarmingly like a gold dredge and I was jolted by my mother hauling me back upright as everyone stood. A movement on the altar caught my eye and as I looked back up I saw the cat, arch and hiss. Then freeze. Its eyes locked on the back doors. Then a low rumble of muted growls came from under the pews. Like a second unit congregation, all the dogs rose with a shuffle and turned as one dog and also glared at the church doors behind us. The priest caught his breath and widened his eyes, the organists fingers paused above the keys and then the whole congregation turned their heads, mouths open, ready to sing and looked to the back of the church.
There were a little herd of shiny cows looking IN through the great big wooden church doors. They were IN the foyer. Cows were coming to church! The only sound for a West Coast moment was the shuffling of the bovine hooves as they shoved at each other for a better look in and the insect scrabble of small children trying to get a much better look straight back.
Then we heard the cat make a run for it with a strangled peep miaow, the dogs bodies creaked as they strained forward stretching their bodies to the cows. Silently begging the men to make the call. The cows, startled though slowly, their heads reared up. Then knocking every single church newsletter to the floor and spraying holy water everywhere as they awkwardly turned their great lumbering bodies, they trotted apologetically back down the church steps. Followed closely by the indignant silent old dogs.
The men, with swift glances to their wives, moved out after the dogs, jamming their hats back onto their relieved heads. Of course all the women remained, bosoms heaving at the interruption, yanking the reluctant children back into upright positions in their seats, eyes forward, the organist struck up again. The cat did not reappear. Us kids exchanged our excitement with eyes and tiny hands, before drifting back into waiting.
I would like to say that we all escorted the naughty cows back to the paddock in the middle of town, but I can remember no more of that hot dusty silent day. We were not locals after all we were beach kids. I only remember the relief I felt when I woke up the next morning and the dredge was singing again.
Now, back to work all of ya!
Last night something died in the cornfield.
In the night a dreadful sound woke me and I came fully awake standing barefoot out in the middle of our little home field. The sounds of dogs were everywhere. Two huge herons erupted noisily from the tall tree above me, startling us with irritated calls. They tucked their feet in behind and wooshed their great wings in lazy movements. Leaving me to fend for myself. Gone into the blackness of the night. Then screams of something unimaginable. A horror movie thrashing. Then silence.
The night was listening. The crickets went still. There was a strange pause. The prairie is like the open sea at night. Sounds drift across from far away. We could hear movement coming through the drying corn canes. The smallest of rattles. The rustles. The sigh of the birds wings already far away. I imagined I heard breath. Paws touching the dry soil so softly. Eyes dipped and lifting. Watching. The snap of a tail. Fall of matted fur. Crunch of bone. Maybe even drool slipping to the ground with the tiniest of plops.
Then the howling started again from one side, and then answering barks from the other. It was a cacophony. A fabric of sound. I was standing in a 6 acre boxing ring, walls of corn on every side, waiting for the bell as the invisible fighters warmed up.
It was dark with a little moon. But my eyes were useless, the night was all sound. To the South I knew that I could hear the howling and yipping of coyotes, impossible to know how many because they disguise their pack size with many different calls. But definitely that chilling coyote song. But to the North I realised I was hearing the barking of a pack of wild domestic dogs. Very different sounds. A pack of different sized dogs too by the barks and yaps. I had forgotton my torch. Again. I was barefoot. Again. Wearing a little pink nightie, out in the moonlight, in between two very different but very hungry packs of wild dogs.
I don’t hold a grudge against the coyotes though. They are truly wild and amazingly adaptable. They are so quiet. Stealthful. They walk up on their toes. Generally they eat rabbits, and mice and even fruit and insects. They dig birthing chambers, love their babies and hunt with some intelligence. They eat what they hunt. If they saw a lamb wandering on the river bank of course they would kill it and eat it. It is our job to make sure that our stock is secure. If a coyote gets one of my animals that is my fault. But mostly they are passing through tracking the deer who live in the corn as well. Every time I have had trouble on the farm with ducks or chickens being killed I can trace the crime directly to stray or roaming local dogs. Domestic wild animals are more of a threat to me than truly wild coyotes. This has been my experience anyway. So I was not that worried about the coyotes, it was the dogs that worried me. Dogs chase and maul, coyotes hunt,kill and eat. There is a difference.
Tontons ears had developed two axis and were whirring independently of each other. He kept leaping in circles, his hackles up, his head up, terrified, on guard, as fierce as you can look with your tail tucked between your own back legs, darting to and fro. My only indication as to where these animals were – was coming from the direction of his ears. And the frantic movement of his ears and all the noise told me that there were dogs either side of us. Maybe every side. And they were howling and barking at each other and moving fast.
Then we heard the sounds of determined running. The noise escalated, coming straight for us out of the North corner. Something had got through the fences and was inside. Tonton and I both turned, poised, with no weapons to meet this threat. We were both on our toes, staring intently into the night. Out of that dark, running at full speed came…
Mia… a frightened little sheep. TonTon big hunter killer that he is, yelped from the fright of her sudden panting appearance and dived for cover between my ankles! I screeched a little girlie squeal and leapt sideways. Mia put on her scornful look and the packs went silent again.
Well then I just got annoyed. That was quite enough. TonTon, Mia and I stalked over to the South side and shouted through the fence into the corn at the coyotes who shouted back for about 10 seconds. I used up the foul mouthed NZ fisherman language that lurks in all us NZ beach girls raised by boatbuilders, and just told those coyotes to bugger off in no uncertain terms. It was a long and painful unrepeatable rant. The language was so dreadful that they were shocked into silence. Anyway coyotes hate the human voice. Especially when called mongrels. They hate to be called mongrels. They were silenced.
Then I found a really big stick, left Mia in her field with her startled mother, and went through the gates to the North side. I shouted and banged on the bins and sides of the barn and TonTon and I ran up and down the fence line screeching into that cornfield like a blonde banshee and her crazed spirit guide. Screaming and hissing and barking. An inhuman squall. After a short while the dogs stopped their barking, probably in horror and slunk back deep into the cornfield.
It was quiet at last. For a time I sat on the big rock in the little home paddock, in the moonlight and waited. The nightbird began their hesitant calls again. My dirty feet rested in the dewy grass. My elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands. We enjoyed the cool night air. We waited but there were no more dogs howling or barking that night. I watched the cows and sheep return to their grazing, their backs smoothly highlighted by the lights of the night. The chickens rustled a bit and settled back in their house. The herons glided without a sound back to their tree. A cat appeared with the smallest of miao hullos and sprawled in the grass. Mia stood on one side of me and TonTon lay on the other and we breathed together.
Later, I washed my feet in a bucket of rain water and crawled back into bed. TonTon settled back by the french doors. I thought to myself that next time I was going to get out the fireworks. Sky rockets should do it. And I had to remember my torch. Flash lights are good. And so I went to sleep.
When I worked in Italy, years ago, we rented an enormous house on the Amalfi Coast, very close to Amalfi, right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterannian. It had six terraces, with heavy marble tables on each one and a pool right on the edge of the cliff. I was working for a film family and managed their lives, their houses, their children, families, their travel and the book. It was a short term job that flows through my memory like a river. I had just quit my job as a full time classroom teacher and was weary right to my bones. When I lived in Italy, I crossed the metaphorical river and began to live IN my life instead of battling to pay for another one. This job developed into being a directors PA but at this point I spent more time walking the hills and beaches with the children and doing homework on the terraces, strolling through the markets and eating, than I did poring over scripts. I wriggled into this interlude in that glorious sparkling late summer Italian sunshine.
In this big house I had an Italian Housekeeper who came in daily and put me and the house to rights. She was a very sexy, very energetic Italian beauty. She spoke no English and I spoke no Italian. I tried to speak Italian with a NZ accent because she absolutely refused to have anything to do with the English language. Her scorn was gorgeous. Every morning she would call to me loudly as she entered the house. My name was pronounced the Italian way Chicheelia (Cecilia), and rolled around on her laughing tongue with ease. She was either laughing or in a fury. At the beginning I was terrified of her.
She held the keys to the linen cupboard which I coveted, the linen not the keys. I love fresh white linen. She would dole monogrammed sheets out to me like treasures with stern looks. Slowly we found out about each others families and children. We discovered that we both loved the sea, blank sheets of paper, (which we both scribbled all over trying to communicate) wine and food and sparkles. She always wore the most startling jewellery. And I remember one particularly entertaining morning when she told me why she had left her husband. He had been a very naughty boy indeed! All this with no words.
I tried to use my English-Italian dictionary and she would swat at it with scorn. Soon we would be shouting with laughter, swapping stories in mime! In desperation she tried to teach me enough Italian to get by and would smile like a Mama when I got the sounds right. She made me write my grocery lists in Italian and would send me off into the piazza with a big bag to practise.
She was appalled at my bangers and mash cooking mentality, though in my defense the sausages were amazing there. They had tiny deli/butchers hidden in teensy wee corners of the piazza with mouth-watering sausages, in great circular links. I held my hands apart to show him how much I wanted – (‘this much, grazie‘). The butcher was a great big Italian fellow who taught me the words to order my favorites, and laughed with me (I think) when I mimicked him. After a few weeks he decided what I was to have anyway,(adjusting my grocery list with big strokes of his pencil, actually I suspected he was writing wicked notes to my housekeeper but she never let on). I would buy today’s fresh vegetables. (I learnt to point after the owner gently smacked my hand out of her way. She put the fruit into the bag, not me!) Then I would buy half a loaf of bread (This was real bread, it went stale in a day.) Found great wedges of pungent cheese, quickly drank my macchiato standing up at the cafe counter (earning a swift nod of approval from cafe staff and an upgrade to locals prices) and back up the hill to begin to cook. One of us would shop in the market twice a day. It was our larder. Food was not stored, you shopped for today.
Once the housekeeper had decided that she liked me (I was so relieved)she proceeded to teach me about real Italian food. She taught me about all the cured meats, how to store cheeses, simple pasta sauces. The taste explosion of pesto. On a few precious Saturdays when I was not working, she and her sister would come over with bags full of food, I would open a bottle of wine, they would rummage about in the garden for herbs then teach me to cook real Italian food.
I have been making my favorite dish from these days ever since. I did not even know its name. Our language was so visual. I just called it Aubergine and Tomat. However using the magic labyrinth of the Blog World I have found it. Parmigiana di melanzane or aubergine parmesiana. (In the US an aubergine is an egg-plant.) I discovered this site when nosing through the favorite blog reads of The Dinner Files (which is kind of like rummaging through a persons book shelves trying to find out what they are like by what they like to read. A dubious exercise at best. ) These people are the professionals at food writing and will make it much easier for you to make this simple dish. And you know how I love simple.
This one is so close to the favorite dish of my Italian Housekeeper. And yes that is a wheel of my own parmesan cheese (above).. though it only came out for the shot.. it is 6 months away from being eaten yet so back into the storeroom it goes! My Italian housekeeper would think I was quite mad making my own.