I was a very young Mum when I got a job for six weeks working with the night nurse at an old folks home. There were two of us and not very much to do, so the other nurse delightfully, arrived each night with her blanket and her pillow, set up the drugs trolley, changed any dressings, helped me with anything heavy, collected the laundry, folded it in front of TV, then stretched out full length on one of the couches in the day room, and went to sleep until the first rounds at 6.00 am.
I did not mind really, I had 32 old ladies and gentlemen all to myself. I had a full house every night. So I would push my evening trolley around, and doled out cups of hot cocoa from enormous stainless steel jugs and the sleeping pills or a glass of sherry. I turned off lights, said good nights and tweaked blankets as I went around.
None of these people were sick you understand, they were just old. In my book old is not an illness. Some of them were a little surprised when I made the offer of a sherry or a sedative (never both). I always checked and noted the charts as to who was allowed sherry and who was not. Any unused pills were charted as untaken and returned to the bottles. And one or two ladies did look surprised, proceeded to hide their surprise and then said yes please, the sherry dear and don’t be mean with the pouring.
Now a sedative will knock you out for the whole night, and then leaves you groggy for hours upon waking, sometimes you will need toileting and turning in the night if you are sedated and not everyone really needs a sedative. And these old people had worked hard all their lives, held all manner of jobs, raised children, worked on farms and survived through wars. They were used to being independent and getting up EARLY. A sedative will stop that. And as my sherries spread in popularity and the snores from the nurse in the front room got deeper, I began to get early morning visitors. Really early morning.
After settling the oldies, I would do the cleaning then between my corridor walks I would work my way through Cooks List. Prepping all the vegetables for lunch the next day, starting the soups for the dinner, baking, peeling apples for apple sauce, defrosting the meat, writing up the order book, all that kind of thing. It was a large kitchen, warm not cavernous like some of the older ones I had worked in, it felt like a regular kitchen. It had windows above the counters, two ovens, huge mixers and herbs on the sill, lots of counter space, and a really big walk in chiller.
It started as a bell, at 4 in the morning. Instead of buzzers all the residents had been given little tinkly bells, some were china, some were brass, cows bells, they all had a bell. Buzzers were for emergencies. Could I have a cup of tea sweetheart. And I began to toddle back and forth with trays of tea. Soon as they became more confident, they would appear at the kitchen door and not wanting to bother me, could they make their own cup of tea? Seeing as how I was so busy and sorry dear but you always make it too weak, though we do appreciate you trying dear. I would hear the ‘we’ then look past the smiling blue blue eyes, it was usually Mrs Lilac (I have changed the names so that no-one gets in trouble) and see two or three other even older sherry ladies lurking out in the corridor. After a few nights of this I reorganised a space on one of the counters with all the makings for a cup of tea. So they could just pop in and out.
Then they began to loiter, drinking their tea in the kitchen watching me work. Then the tea pots were too big and they were not familiar with these T baggie thingies dear so I began to bring my own silver tea pot from home that was just the right size. (I am sure you remember the tea pot story ). They loved to hear that story, they got to own the story of the day I melted my mothers silver tea pot and the ensuing drama. As each new lady joined the circle of night visitors they would tell it all over again. They were thrilled to pour their tea out of my mothers heat dented silver tea pot with its legs melted off and its collapsed lid. Then a tea cosy appeared to cover it. Then a tea caddy with good strong tea leaves in it appeared each night in the tea corner. Then they were bringing their own cups: I hope you don’t mind dear but your cups are just so fat dear. I love a good cup.
I worked five nights a week, for six weeks and a little routine developed. Once everyone was settled in for the night (meaning Nursey with the blanket) I would drag a table and chairs out of the gloomy dining room and set them up outside the double kitchen doors. There would be a few midnight visitors and in the early morning my other ladies would begin to whisper out of their rooms, like tall shadows leaking out of the darkened corridors, touching their fingers along the walls for comfort. They would sit around their table with another pot of tea, watching for the sunrise through the kitchen windows. They began to raid my cookies as they came out of the oven. Those are for afternoon tea Mrs Lilac. I would say. I know dear, yes I do know. I will let them cool a little. Her lovely long hands lined with raised veins and bruises and fragile nails, rings running loose and twinkly around her fingers, reaching for hot cookies.
Soon it was: I hope you don’t mind Cecilia dear, but we thought maybe we could just whip up a quick batch of cookies ourselves. Would that be alright? I mean yours are good but Miss Jo was a cooking teacher for fifty odd years dear and she does make lovely oatmeal cookies. So they are taking turns making cookies and then cakes in the night. Getting up earlier and earlier. Jostling and laughing in the softest voices, their reflections moving about in the dark night windows. Pouring and sifting and stirring. You go and check if nurse is still asleep dear we are fine. We will have some dishes for you soon. Oh Cecilia, I might just help you with this stock for the soup dear. Taking the spoon: watch now dear.
Well you all better be back in bed by 6.00 and pretending to be fast asleep. I would say. Oh we will dear, don’t you worry, I just wanted to make that chocolate cake that my old Alfred, god rest his soul, used to be so partial too. And those dear little club sandwiches, we will wrap them in wet towels and they will be perfect for morning tea. And you know how Myrtle worries in the night about getting the mutton done for the shearers, a little sandwich in the night settles her dear. She is just a wee bit confused sometimes. We will just sneak one out for her with a cup of tea, why don’t you take that down to her dear and oh I might just sneak one for myself. Do you want a club sandwich Dorothy. It is the bread dear. You have to have the thinnest bread.
You understand now don’t you, it took me a while. It was the kitchen they were visiting, not me. Their own kitchens had been their own kingdoms for all those years. Then they had lost their kitchens. So very gently and very cleverly I was moved aside and they took over mine.
One night, as I sat at the table in the corridor peeling apples and watching my bright group of old women, their hair in plaits or curlers, their nighties and cardigans and worn dressing gowns in layers, the bows of their aprons tied firmly into the small of their backs. Bony bare ankles peeping out from worn slippers, hands kneading and whisking and slamming the stove door. Necks stretched to see. You know you are going to get me into trouble, I said to the ladies showing me how to peel apples. I have children to feed you know. We know dear and I am sure they are such dear wee children too.
I hear a squeak of wheels coming down the dark corridor and there is Old Miss Poppy who usually walks very slowly with a cane, being pushed in a wheelchair by The Elder Miss Mabel. In Miss Poppy’s lap she holds a package wrapped in brown paper. She has The Tongue! Elder Miss Mabel announced and Old Miss Poppy smiled and bobbed her head as she was blithely wheeled past me and into my crowded kitchen at some ridiculously early hour of the morning. Tongue? what tongue?I choked. Why dear a cows tongue Mrs Lilac said and smiled. I do miss tongue, called back Miss Poppy.
The next morning, when all the furniture had been put away. The cookies were all in jars, the apple sauce steaming in its crock and the oatmeal soaking in warm water. The windows were pushed open to invite in the cool early sunshine and all my ladies were safely back in their beds. I told Cook, as she took off her jacket, hung it on a hook and reached for her kitchen shoes, that there was a large cow’s tongue, cooked, peeled and cooling in the walk-in chiller. I waited apprehensively. She looked at me and smiled as she struggled to tie her apron about her Rubenesque girth.
Oh, Lovely. Holding my eyes for just a shade too long. Then smiled. Good. She nodded. Well, you know dear, she said. You have a week left of nights, don’t you? You see I am taking a month off in a fortnight. Now, Matron is quite impressed with all the cooking, those soups are so good and your cakes dear. Very good. Her eyelid fluttered into what looked suspiciously like a wink. I think Matron is going to ask you to fill in as Cook for the month I am away. I know the residents will be pleased.
But you do go through rather a lot of aprons dear, you need to think of the laundry…
Last night we were sitting outside eating our simple repast, the food supplied by our own wee farm, when we heard a worrying creaky noise coming from Pats Paddock. I could see part of the big paddock, and noticed the Murphys (lambs for dinner) and Mia (lamb forever) galloping across the field. Then there was another very obvious creak followed by an ominous crack. Probably Daisy behind the tree, I said to Our John who grunted and started eating faster. I was on those last few mouthfuls of dinner. You know the one bite when there is the perfect mix of pasta (made with our own eggs) and spinach (from the garden) with sunflower seeds (from down the road) and the fresh tomato salad (yes we are still picking tomatoes, sigh) has become warm and sweet. All the tastes are individual but melting towards each other. You go and see. I said, collecting the perfect forkful. I just want to eat his last bit. John looked up.
Really big creaky, wiry, posty, breaky fency noise, yikes. We both jumped up, I dropped the domed fly covers over the plates, on went the gumboots and we ran down the verandah steps, through the garden, across the track and round behind the tree and there was Daisy. The naughtiest house cow in the world, leaning over the fence and as far out of the paddock into the cornfield as her considerable weight could take her, her tongue, her neck, her whole body at full stretch, trying with all her might to get to that one elusive stalk of corn and taking the fence with her.
Bad cow I was shouting. Daisy NO, John was calling. Daisy NO. Get your head away from that Genetically Modified corn, I am thinking! John ran for the fence I ran through the barn through two gates and out into the paddock with a bucket (the lure). The lambs were still at full gallop, expecting an escape hatch to open up any minute I am sure. Then they would fly through it at top speed and disappear into 400 acres of dry corn.
Daisy always comes when I call her (each set of animal has their own call). So I called her Come on Daisy! Banging on the bucket. She reluctantly turned from argueing the point with John, saw the bucket and leapt towards me. I spun and ran for the barn doors to get her in there. And she came flying after that bucket into the barn. Head and tail still up. Eyes showing way too much white. She is like a 16 hand clydesdale horse of a cow. An Ayrshire cow who thinks she is a horse at full gallop takes a lot of stopping (so I jumped up onto the hay feeder as you would). She was bellowing that John had yelled at her, why couldn’t she have some corn candy, the cows across the creek get corn candy, applying her brakes a bit late as she hit the barn floor. I threw the red bucket to the other side of the barn and she did a 180 degree turn up on two hooves and hurled herself after it and through the other doors into the yards. I slammed the gate. Thinking, I am supposed to be milking this cow this spring.So now Daisy is back in the potato paddock, by herself. They keep assuring me that after she has had a calf she will settle down. Still no sign of the results from the pregnancy test though.
John went to get the fence repair tools and I ran as fast as my little gumboots could carry me back to the verandah and to my dinner, lifted the cover and oh there it was, the last mouthful. Aah. My mother used to call it the mouses tail. I guess the cat would save the tail for last. If so I am a cat. Queenie is a good girl though. She is my Hereford calf.
And for my new readers. We are developing an old fashioned sustainably managed farm. We just want to grow our own food in a simple gentle respectful way. It is possible to eliminate processed foods from our diets and be GM free. Sometimes I tell the stories that go with the history of the food we cook. Then we all get distracted. But mostly it is about the wee farm where we live and eat.
So the grapes are in, and the vegetables are winding down except for the leafy greens, silverbeet, swiss chard, beetroot and the new plantings of lettuce, cilantro and spinach. We are picking and drying the red peppers and freezing tomatoes and the big peppers. The last of the pumpkins are in. Soon we will plant the garlic and mow the asparagus. But the wind-down means that the chickens can come out again. In fact their door will not be closed now. They will wander the farm and gardens until about December when it gets really cold. When they will not come out of the chook house anymore then I shall close both their doors and lock them down for the winter. At the moment they have a half door leaned up against the door so that Hairy McLairy can not get in. Did I tell you he loves to have his ears scratched. I was trying to get all these shots this morning and he kept appearing solemnly and silently right behind me, gently offering his ears for a scratch. And sweet as he is, and now that I am out of earshot, I have to say in the nicest possible way. This ram smells very rammy!
You will have noticed a dearth of good photos in my blogs lately, this is because my camera metaphorically spat the proverbial dummy. I have a new lens on the way but until then the camera is sitting in the corner of my summer study feeling all wan and miserable. It has had no walks and no loving (it was bad!). It weeps not very quietly into its bag when it sees the despised Purse Camera being taken out to play.
So in the absence of pretty photos I am going to attend to my awards. Over the last week, well last couple of weeks actually but whose counting. Oh you are? Oh .. well.. Anyway over this undetermined period of time I have been awarded three awards, I think. Well sometimes I forget to write stuff down and yes I know, you are right, I am one of those blondes that give the real blondes a bad name. But I know for sure I have been awarded three from a very enterprising trio of bloggers.
So I am going to have to rely on my somewhat faulty memory, oh what am I talking about, my ridiculously embarrassing memory to recall who they are. One day I forgot a whole person can you imagine such a terrible thing.. just completely forgot about him. SO Thank you my most darling Nia who loves cats as much as they love to pose for her and thank you the thunderous son who surprises me every day with his eclectic witty comments, I just love getting comments – any kind of comment and this fellow has a knack of entertaining the house with his comments! Plus he has an endlessly surprising blog. And Thank you so much Mr All Write who is new to my list, not new to his you understand but it took me a while to find him and he is a great read, really lovely way with words. He also likes his tighty-whiteys to uber white. A sentiment I wholeheartedly approve of.
I have a feeling that there was someone else but I forgot to write you down. So thank you TOO. And thank God and the Academy and my mum (oh no – wrong speech). Don’t you just love really Bad Jokes! Thank you my fellow bloggers for being the madcap blogging bunch that you are. Love, love, love your comments. And love the writing back . In fact as one of those interesting things you may not want to know about me I get up at 5.30 in the morning specifically to answer my messages. I love commenting on comments that much!
So speaking of tasks! It is more than likely that I am supposed to write seven things about myself, or nominate seven others or nominate five other people and write 16 things about myself or maybe I am supposed to make links to 4 of my favourite blogs and write nothing about myself, or was it six links and my birthdate. or a picture of me as a baby… my mind is a blank. But I want to play! i just cannot remember the rules! I was never very good with rules anyway!
SO I am going to link a few of piles of my favourite pages and then I will tell you a few deadly sins or maybe even a few things you did not know about me and then if you are really lucky and promise to be good I will STOP!
YOUR TASK dear reader, anyone can play or not, is to click on any Two of these links, go and leave a cheerful uplifting comment and tell them Celi sent you!! Oh I love this – this will be fun!
1.Never put your umbrella upside down in your drink! This is dangerous and much worse for your health than not eating your vegetables.
2.Never eat a whole packet of dried apricots by yourself and expect to be accepted in polite society.
3. Never drive on the wrong side of the road to get the attention of the cops with a car full of drunk friends singing We Are The Champions because you are the sober driver and want to be breathalysed! Stay at home and drink champagne it is better for you.
4. Never wear your contact lenses out to feed the cows when it is -10F (-23.3C) and blowing. They will freeze to your eyeballs! Go back inside and practice your saber throwing it is safer.
A clear conscience is usually a sign of a bad memory. Thought you should know.
6. And never tell food blog people that you favourite food is Fried Left Overs, most especially fried mashed potatoes! In fact for breakfast every day I fry the leftovers from the night before. Sometimes it is a weird breakfast especially if we had pasta, but there you are a deals a deal.
7.Oh and one last thing NEVER go and see a movie when you are in the early stages of labour with your third baby, and want to watch something to distract you. Then choose the one with Dueling Banjos in it because it sounded like a nice little musical!
No images of the farm today, sorry. I am going to go outside and converse with my old cow Daisy, her pregnancy test is due tomorrow and she is feeling a wee bit apprehensive so I will take the Purse Camera in case anything exciting happens!
Did I tell you that the combine harvesters are out and about. The rumble has begun!. Soon my corn walls will come down. Oh and never say never!
My father has been following the blog since its beginnings and is not altogether sure about the merits of my bread recipe. Yes, you can go back and have a bit of a laugh at it if you like!! You will remember that Dad is a boat builder and measurements and procedures are second nature to him. He has been reading your comments too and has noticed that there have been a few requests for the family bread recipe so he has offered to help out. So we have a guest blogger today. Over to you Dad….
Hi Cecilia – writing to you all the way from the land of your birth. It’s springtime here, always a hopeful time.
I have noticed that some of your correspondents love the idea of making bread but they are a little daunted by your way of making it. You apparently just throw in a bit of flour and a bit of yeast and a bit of water and mix it and knead it and because you know what your dough should feel like you get a lovely loaf of bread. That isn’t much help, so I thought I would tell you all how I make mine way down here in New Zealand.
I’m a marine engineer from way back so I will measure things. I like things to work when I make them, first time, every time and if this recipe is followed exactly it will work first time.
You guys in the US of A are going to have to do some fancy arithmetic to work out your weights in pounds and ounces but with all the conversion systems you get on the ‘Net that shouldn’t be too hard but to make things a bit more precise my Cup is 236 ml, my Half cup is, not surprisingly, 118ml. The Tablespoon measure I use is 20 ml. these are standard metric measurements I think. So off you go, fire up your computer and do your sums.
Right to work. Get all your stuff on the bench and put your salt someplace where you won’t forget it. Bread without salt is the pits. First off we are going to, “Sponge” the yeast mix, so measure out the wholemeal flour, the yeast, the sugar, the kibbled grains and pumpkin seeds into your nice big mixing bowl. I’ve used pumpkin seeds and kibbled grains because that’s what I’ve used in my bread this morning but you can add any other crunchy stuff that you like but if this is your first try don’t get too carried away. You don’t need to use grits at all if you don’t want to.
Now add the water to the mix and whisk it all up. Then sit the bowl in warm water. The water bath temperature is hand hot that is if you can run it over the back of your hand and it doesn’t feel as though it’s going to take the skin off it should be OK. If you want to get technical that seems to be about 38 to 40 degrees Celsius. ( Sorry about that). I run it into the kitchen sink until I have enough in there at this temperature to float the bowl with the mixture in it. Let it “Sponge” for 20 minutes. By this time it should be frothy and bubbly and smell beaut. Then sprinkle in the salt and whisk it up again. Good we haven’t forgotten the salt, it’s in.
Now lift your bowl out of the sink and pour in the white flour. The white flour wants to be what is called “Hard“ flour but if the label tells you it’s suitable for bread making that’s what you want. Mix it up with a strong stirrer for as long as you can and then scrape it all out onto a clean bench.
Now this is where the bread really comes to life. I knead it for ten minutes by the clock. I think it’s important not to skimp this step and it is fun anyway, I feel as though I am part of a tradition that goes way way back while I am kneading my dough. Keep scraping the dry bits back in as you go and if you have weighed and measured the ingredients accurately you should not need to add water. If it is too dry or if it is too sticky just wet you hands in the warm water in the sink or dip them into the flour bin and keep on going. The finished dough should be almost sticky but not quite, if you know what I mean, but should not stick to your bench.
Ten minutes are up. Wash out your mixing bowl and dry it thoroughly and plonk the ball of dough into it. Cover it with a supermarket bag to keep it in a humid atmosphere and leave it to rise for an hour in a nice warm place. Hopefully it will have risen up enormously in that time. Then drop it onto your bench again and knock it down and make it into a roll so you can cut it up to make two loaves.
The tins you put your dough into are best made of metal as the heat of the oven is transferred quickly into the dough and you get a good ”Oven Jump”. The bread just rises as you watch but that’s still at least another hour away. But anyway, spray the inside of the tins with cooking spray and push the dough down into the tins firmly and spread it evenly, more towards the ends than the middle as the loaves seem to always rise more in the middle that the ends. The tins should be a little over half full. Then cover each with it’s supermarket bag and leave them for another hour and a quarter or so, to rise. Turn on your oven set to 200 deg C. Is that 400 deg F? I dunno, too much for an old fella and when it is well up to temperature carefully place you tins of dough into your oven. Don’t knock them about at this stage or they’ll go flat on you. Cook your bread for 30 minutes turning them round for the last five minutes or so to get them evenly browned. You can spray them with cooking spray when you turn them to make them look all nice a glossy and help them brown.
There we are. That was easy wasn’t it. Tip your loaves of bread out onto a cooling rack and if you can resist the temptation leave them to cool at least a bit before you whack off the crusty end and slather butter onto it and munch.
I have a friend, who lives by himself in a beach house on stilts, up the East Coast, in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. It is a beautiful bay, deserted for most of the year. He is on the beach every day . Surfing mostly. Or looking for surf. When he goes away to work he takes his boards with him, just in case, as he is a dedicated surfer. When he is home at the beach, in the late afternoon in any weather he will set up his fishing rods. Then with a strong cast he will send the hook with its tasty morsel firmly attached, far out past the breakers. Once he sees that it is settled out there he will jam the rod into the sand and somehow anchor it. Then he will sit and wait. He is a round strong man, and when he sits by his lines, with his bare feet and his bald head sipping on his beer, he looks like a big golden rock.
Once I tried to sneak up on him as he sat facing the sea, I walked ever so softly across the sand approaching him from behind. He did not turn. When I paused a ways behind him he said Hey Celi! How did you know it was me, I said, (I had come straight from work and saw him there on the beach) Bracelets, he said, jingling. Damn. I thought, forgot about those. He popped the top off a bottle and handed it to me, still without taking his eyes off his rods. It was that kind of place.
You watch the tip of the rod for any straining, any tiny movement that meant there was a fish on your line. You watched it until the light was almost gone and you could barely see the damn thing. Sometimes it took hours. At the merest twitch of the line he would leap into action grab the rod, tuck it into his considerable belly and begin to reel in his fish. This appeared to be hard work. I only had to get involved if the other rod started to twitch but I was remarkably useless really and probably only made things worse. I certainly never brought in a fish by myself. He usually always caught a fish or two for dinner, never more than we could eat that day, cleaned and scaled on the beach, ready for a wash in fresh water and into the pot.
So while he watched the tips of his lines and there was till light, I would take a bucket and look for tuatua. These are small shell fish. You walk along the sandy shore right at the tide line and watch for bubbles coming up out of the sand. Then with your heel you twirl and twirl drilling your foot into the sand. Now, you know that you cannot dig a hole in wet sand, it fills in with water as fast as you can dig, but if you dig with the heel of your foot, like a mad wiggling dance, ridiculous to watch, it opens up a wider hole with a slightly longer window of opportunity. When you feel your heel scape on a shell you immediately turn and dive into the hole using your hands like shovels and flip the shell fish out and into a bucket with a little sea water, so it will spit any sand into the bucket and not into your soup before it shuts up tight. If you have a shovel then you excavate more as fast as you can before a wave washes everything clean again. You only gather enough for dinner, this is the way of these things.
If your companions are feeling generous they will swim out to the rocks with a knife and prize a few paua (abalone) off the rocks. You have to be strong for this. Those paua hold on tight. These are cleaned and the flesh beaten for fritters. Then you line the shells up on the window sill for decoration.
On the way home we would visit other fishermen and sometimes get a crayfish or two from a dory that has come in with a good catch. I know this sounds just too idyllic for words but our walk home also took us through an abandoned avocado orchard. Pick, pick, pick. Lemon tree by an abandoned beach house. Pick. And he had lined his property with olive trees. As you can imagine I visited often. My father had built his father a crayfish boat so we went way back. I even had my own room in that beach house and a key. I left old sun dresses and a battered sun hat in the wardrobe and I was good to go. When my children stayed with their father I was at the beach.
My friend from the beach would sometimes make what I called click clack soup with the days gathering. Fresh tuatua, pieces of fish and crayfish and whatever else we had collected. I called it click clack soup because your spoon would click and clack on the shells in your bowl. He would cut everything into the same sized chunks, and cook it in a chicken broth with chilli and green onions and wild leeks. Boiled the shellfish till they popped open then dropped them in. Not much else. We would eat this soup, out on his deck, watching the moon on the sea, my skin smeared with lotion to soothe the burning from the beach sun.
He does not have the internet, and has no interest in phones so I shall write to him and try to get the recipe for the click clack soup for you. Though I suspect that he made it up each time.
Because my Dad was a boat builder, when we were kids we ate fresh fish at least twice a week. Fishermen would drop off choice fish and crays for Dad. I remember Mum making crayfish (which we ate almost weekly) with a parsley sauce,and I realise now that she was probably making an early chowder adapted from a mornay recipe I think. Mornay sauce was her favourite. Over the years I have adapted her recipe to make my own seafood chowder that I can eat far away from the sea where there are no fishermen.
Salmon and Shrimp Chowder
In a heavy bottomed pot add the usual suspects
Cook gently until onion is soft NOT BROWN.
Cook down until the stock has begun to thicken and potatoes are cooked. Add more chicken stock in you need to.
Seperately, either pan fry or bake a pound of salmon with branches of lavender or rosemary, a little honey and pepper.
Thaw about 20 shrimps and de-tail. (Don’t forget to save the tails in a bag in the freezer for when you want to make fish stock!)
If you want a thicker chowder then thicken now, with a roux. Then slowly add 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of cream to your big pot of stock. Or if you are greedy like me 2 cups of cream, no milk and no need to thicken. Heat. No boiling from now on.
Add cooked shrimps and the salmon torn into chunks. (discard skin and lavender sticks)
If you get that chewy piece of parmesan cheese it is mine! Mine I tell you!
Yesterday I introduced you to the farm house in the orchard, we talked about its high ceilings and long old fashioned sash windows. It also had a long wide corridor that ran past all the bedroom doors and to a massive solid wood front door. This front door opened onto a small porch with those big pillars on either side, shaded by big tree out the front. Then you walked down two old concrete steps, along a little garden path to one of the cutest garden gates I have ever lived with. Open this gate and we will step straight out onto a deep grass verge then into the street. We are quite literally on the outskirts of town, and across the road is a little line of very sweet old houses.
Now turn around and look back at our house. You can see across the little gate, down the little path, through the open door, back down the long dark corridor and there on the wall at the end of the hall we are all looking straight at a beautiful painting and above that painting the landlord had hung a supremely ugly little white plastic disc. Yes the smoke detector. You can just see it if you squint a little from the gate. If you turn right at the smoke detector you will see into my bedroom with its old dark hardwood floors and its gorgeous open fireplace, framed in an ornate white mantel, the walls lined with art and books. It was that kind of house. But shut that door we are not going in there, it is early morning and I have not made my bed yet. Go back and stand by the front door, I have left the door open because this side of the house catches all the coolest of breezes. It is my favourite spot in the summer, it feels like a secret.
To afford this beautiful farm house I had rented one of the bedrooms out to a lovely girl called Lee. She was a petite beauty with a great big laugh, huge blue eyes, a terrible habit of twirling her long blonde curls in her fingers, I bet she sucked her thumb as a baby and she was a town dog catcher. When you look at her there is no way you would expect her to be a dog catcher but there you are. She had a little council van, with a little council radio and a pair of big boots that clomped along on the end of her very pretty legs.
It was a Tuesday. Rubbish day. The boys had dragged the rubbish out, then I had driven them to school, dropped the Beautiful Baby off at kindy. (In NZ children go to kindergarten three mornings a week or two afternoons a week from 3 years old if you have been sensible enough to book them in at birth. It has nothing to do with school and it is free. I booked them in at birth!)
See how I get distracted? OK. Our pitiful rubbish bags are listing to port on the grass verge outside the little garden gate. Lee has gone to work and at this point of time you can hear me singing in the shower. Actually I never have sung in the shower but it seemed like a nice metaphor to describe the feeling of a delightfully empty house, all to myself, a stunning summer morning, all the windows and doors open and a day off work. So I am singing in the shower. From where you are watching you will see little innocent drifts of smoke coming from the kitchen, through the door and into the hallway. For the life of me now I cannot remember what I was cooking, probably just toast, (I could burn about anything)but I was merrily singing and splashing away in the shower while my kitchen was merrily shedding black smoke.
There are sounds outside too, birds, of course, my big black dog rolling over in her sleep, a little traffic, and the thump and rev and crash of the rubbish men in their big rubbish truck creeping closer. There was a time that the rubbish men were often boxers in training you know. They considered this job to be a workout! So we have the young boxers, with their big feet and big gloved hands moving closer to our house and smoke moving closer to the smoke detector and me singing in the shower.
OK, move yourself back out the front door that is standing open because it brings in the coolest air in the summer, down the little garden path, quick don’t be knocked over by the rubbish men they are almost here now and stand out there on the grass by my rubbish bins and look back in. The alarm is shrieking now. A terrible sound, it flies out the door and pings about the apple trees and swoops at the little houses across the road. Incongrous and dreadful in the morning air. You will see me tearing into the hall wrapped in a pink towel, sopping wet, long dark hair (yes my hair was dark in those days) dripping down my back. I have a broom. And I am bashing at the smoke alarm, if you hit that little reset button, just right, it will stop. But it will not stop. I cannot get the broom on the right angle this morning (yes this has happened before). The noise is shredding. I cannot hear a thing except this screaming. I can’t get to the damn little reset button with the broom so I dash back through the door and reappear dragging a chair, I plant the chair in front of the enormous painting, rewrap the towl quickly as it keeps slipping. Then I stand on the chair, bashing at it some more with the broom. No result. So I drop the broom, place one hand every so carefully on the frame of the painting and stretch up as far as I can, right up onto my toes and just manage to push the button with the tip of my finger. It stops, sigh, just as the painting slips sideways, the chair wobbles, I lose the towel and my footing. I dive sideways with a great wet crash and a hysterical giggle as I slide straight off the stage.
Everything is silent but for the slow rumble of an idling truck.
So, I dress, straighten the painting, glare at the smoke detector, the smoke clears, and I proceed with my morning. Lee calls and says she is coming home for lunch and will pick up Beautiful Baby on the way. I make a quiche and pick some salad from the garden out the front.
Lee arrives and sits on the kitchen steps to tug her boots off. The Baby begins to look for a spot to hang today’s paintings.
So, Lee said, anything exciting happen this morning? Usually I find this to be quite a mean question as not very much exciting ever really happens, but today I launch into my funny little smoke episode.
I know, she says. How do you know? I ask her. I heard it described in great detail on the council airwaves. Evidently the rubbish men were watching and had begun their announcement to the rest of the council workers on an open band with the words ‘You will never believe what I just saw!’ She recognised her own address in the chatter.
I harumphed. Twisting my hair into a knot on top of my head. Mentally running back through the whole thing from the Point of View of the road. Oops. Lee comes into the kitchen. Her big mens boot-socks shushing on the floor, she pulls at her council shorts. She is just smiling out loud at me and puts on the kettle for a cup of tea with lunch. I hear the muffled radio voices from her council van out in the drive. I set the salad on the Big Table. Have they stopped talking about it now? No, she says.
Are you still standing there in the cool outside the front door, come in, have a seat at the Big Table, I will change the subject and we will eat quiche. Gorgeous day, today yeah?.
We have leapt a generation in this piece. But you know how sometimes a story will get stuck in the front of your brain and revolve around in there until it is down-loaded to clear the way for another. This is a persistent memory, but only of a moment really. So I have taken you from the beach house where I grew up, across about 10 years and over the hill then 15 miles out onto the plains to an old farm house right in the middle of an orchard that I rented, when I found myself recently motherless and newly divorced with little children.
I was sitting at the Big Table in that big farm house that we lived in after my status change to solo mum. I was single for the next 15 years, reluctant to marry again when the children were small, so I learned to live with the innocuous much despised label ‘solo mum’. I was a very young Mum, in fact I had started as an even younger Mum because I had become pregnant (in the usual way) as a teenager before I married, was sent to live with the nuns and adopted my first son to another family and then still grieving really, married a nice boy when I was 20 and we were divorced 7 years later after having had four more children. (Wow all that in one sentence). None of this has ever been a secret so I don’t mind you knowing. But I don’t believe in dwelling on stuff so here is Daisy and her cat last year.
Often my children and I (plus the one I lost who found me again, we call him Elder Son) will talk about that time as though we were all young together. Which in fact we were. This day at the table I was writing a book called Potatoes are your Best Friend. (Which of course never saw the light of day because I was easily distracted in those days.) It was hard but satisfying work raising a good number of kids on your own, with a very little amount of money! I did not have a lot of work and with a whole passle of kids as they say, I did not have a lot of time to work either so we got to be very good at making ends meet and yes the things I can do with a sack of spuds! So writing down how I did it was a natural step for a scribbler.
It was a late summers sunny day in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. The farm house was cool inside with high ceilings and enormous sash windows, the windows sat high in the walls of the house about 6 feet above the garden if you looked in from the outside. There are no fly screens across NZ windows like they have here in the US but the children were forbidden from climbing through the windows because the ropes and weights and pulleys that helped raise and drop the windows were dreadfully ancient, and those windows were so heavy, I would tell the kids that if the little rope that held up the weight broke and the window fell it would chop their heads right off. (Mothers got to love ’em.)
It was school holidays. The boys were outside, literally screaming with joy around the yard, these lanky little blonde boys their legs browned and lean inventing as they went along and arguing about the rules that they had made up 5 minutes earlier. I was writing in my book. The baby (Beautiful Daughter -a toddler) was sitting on her end of the Big Table, painting on her paper, probably painting The Big Table actually. But she was quiet and happy, why interrupt. Everything washes in the end. Or not.
Thinly sliced potatoes were in the big flat bottomed wok, frying gently in late summer butter, (late summer butter is always paler than spring butter) sizzling with onions, sliced sausage and parsley, soon I would whisk the eggs and chop the tomatoes and make an omellette for lunch. Serving it in wedges with home made bread. Peace crept softly into the room.
The Big Table was always called the Big Table as long as I could remember. It was solid oak (still is actually as it lives with Roo now) and could seat 14 hungry bodies if all the little kids were jammed into an old church pew that ran along one end. It was a wide long table. My dad had extended it lengthways using two old oak wardrobe doors, and strengthened it with steel girders. Mum matched the oaks by staining it with walnuts from our tree.
When I was first married I visited home with my children often. If Mum was well enough to come upstairs to eat with the whole family, the Huge table bulging with people and noise, her cat would come too. He was huge and fluffy and very grand. He stalked behind Mum with his tail straight up and poised. He had a special stool that was placed beside Mum’s chair at the Big Table. With studied disdain this cat would glide up through the air and land exactly where he meant to, no skidding, just a precise landing, lower his furry bottom to the wooden stool, arrange his tail with a flick and there he would sit all through dinner just watching, tidy and ever so genteel but definitely superior. Every now and then Mum would place a small piece of meat on the stool before his paws. He would ignore this offering for quite some time as any God would. He would narrow his eyes gazing around the table daring anyone to comment. Then he would reach his large wooly head down, to his motionless feet and it would be gone without even the trace of a swallow. As though maybe he was inspecting his beautiful foot, or nudging the stool testing for cleanliness, his nose an imaginary white glove.
When my mother died, the table was winched down over the second story verandah and onto the back of a truck and brought out to me in my farm house. It had twelve high backed oak chairs that did not match, I loved that they did not match.
In our farmhouse that day, the windows were propped wide open, it was warm and then quite out of the blue, everything just shifted down a gear, it was a clear change, the sun felt warmer, the air calmed, my head tilted as I listened to the almost forgotton sounds of my whole family together, watching the cat across the past. They became muted, the past receded and the fear that had sat in my gut every waking moment for years now was gone. And you have to know all of what I have just told you to understand how this gear shift was a wonderful thing, our world was whole in that disconnected truest of moments, you know that feeling, like rare shafts of golden transient light. A bell tolled in the soundtrack in my head calling out 12 noon and all is well. And I sat at the Big Table inside that lovely transient bubble of sublime drifting away from my work, just watching that cat across those years and knowing with a knowledge as small as a mote of dust as it drifted past, that we were going to be alright. On our journey through life. Peace was there, waiting.
Then I heard the shout and then the rattle of a ball bouncing across the roof of the house. I heard Senior Son ( Sam), shouting orders, then a scuffle below the window. Then I saw third son (M) suddenly appear at the open window beside me, climbing up off Sam’s shoulders onto the window sill, then he reached down and Sam appeared to run up his back like a monkey and take his place on M’s shoulders leaning up to the guttering. M then very very carefully stretched his long arm and grabbed my baby boy Roo, who was probably four years old, by his bouncing outstretched hand and flung him like a frisbee up to Sam who caught him and hurled him up onto the roof. You can imagine the lift in my eyebrows, still in my transparent bubble of happy, as I saw my youngest son flying past the window. This was all done you understand in one fluid series of movements. Like those little Russian circus performers who make pyramids of themselves with the Hup and the Hup, punctuating each landing on each shoulder with a sound. So there was a son on the forbidden sill, a son standing on his shoulders and another son being catapulted bouncing from one to the other through the air and up onto the roof.
I woke from my daydream with a start and before I could shout put that baby down! Roo had landed on the roof with a confident thump, run across the hot tin, retrieved the ball, thrown it down and they did the whole thing in reverse. One by one, throwing each other down then leaping off the sill into the garden with the crack of small plants, slap of bare feet and grunts of satisfaction. Then full of laughter they just ran off, resuming the game without pause.
Now, I thought, as I put down my pen, and stood to go to the stove, ‘how often have they done that?’
OK, Update time.
The yeast is definitely active in the grape juice. The Snug (the snug is a tiny room with a couch, a beanbag and a TV in it, this is where John makes the wine, cider etc as he can regulate the temperature in there and sit with his wine whilst watching the game! ) The Snug is taking on a real cellar’y’ smell which is good evidently. The ginger beer is a raging success (Moscow Mule anyone or would you rather a Dark and Stormy?) It is still raining. Good for me, bad for the corn and bean growers waiting to harvest. Let them wait! My tiny herd is laying about in the barn, Daisy is practising her gate opening skills – That Cow! You should see her opening gates she is so naughty! All the catches are being changed to cow proof locks! Everyone else is out in the rain, those filthy sheep need a wash! TonTon and Mary’s Cat are fast asleep on the door mat on the verandah and the rest of the cats are out hunting (or sleeping as well who knows). The guineas are sat outside the dining room window peering at themselves in the glass and if those chickens don’t get busy and start laying again there is going to be trouble.
I am very lucky to have been tagged again for the fab Versatility award by two entertaining bloggers. Tandy who runs fantastic competitions that I am dying to join (but too scared). She makes great food using good clean ingredients and workingmom who is indeed a working mom (I can empathise) and fabulous mother who still finds the time to read and write (she really writes) and cook and do all that other good stuff. Thank you both!
I am thrilled to receive this award again because there are a few more people on my list who I wanted to nominate last time. So the list of people I am calling on is small but good! Also eclectic, something for everyone in this list so check them out when you have a chance.
Please see below for this small list.
And here are my SEVEN things.
1. I am not a cat person, I think they are pretty and photogenic and everything but I like them to live outside and look pretty in trees. My cats look especially beautiful laying in a patch of sun on a bale of straw in the BARN! In the winter they have been seen sleeping happily ON TOP of Daisy.
2. And this is a terrible admission and I just know I am going to be unFriended or UnFollowed but I don’t eat chocolate. I can eat plain unsweetened dark cooking chocolate but I do not have a sweet tooth so all those other chocolates and candies are not for me. Though just to prove me a liar, maybe once a year I will become desperate for a Snickers Bar. Me!! Who rages against processed foods. I grab it off the shelf. I buy it. I unwrap it and I eat it before the change is even in my hand. Then after a long stuggle trying to forgive myself I am done for another year or so.
3. My little VW diesel car runs on recycled cooking oil that I collect from local restaurants. Our John refines it in his workshop and all summer my car just beetles along on it. And No it does not smell like a fish and chip shop.
4 One winter I encouraged two of my grown sons to drag a garden seat out onto the middle of our frozen swimming pool, then they sat on the chair in summer clothes and bare feet, in sub zero temperatures with a cold beer while I took the photo. It is a very crazy photo, because a cat walked out there with them and sat on the ice contemplating his navel making the boys laugh out loud. Our John was standing by, shaking his head solemnly, with a grappling hook at the ready!
5. When I turned 35 I swore never to peel potatoes again. I just could not bear to peel one more potato! So I haven’t. I just cut out their poor miserable eyes and wash them a bit. Done.
6. I could never be a vegan or even a vegetarian for that matter because I HATE rules!
7. I have a terrible memory so I make lists about everything, then I forget to read them then I forget where I put them, and when I finally find them I cannot remember why I wrote them. Such a trial.
And so to the four new players!
Now I know there are rules but just joining in the fun is really cool. So I think you can nominate as many readers as you like up to 15. And if you want to, we are DYING to hear seven things about you. You may mention that sweet wee kitchengarden as having nominated you if you like!!
And this is what happens if you leave your cow out in the bad weather! Now look below for my wee list.
Yesterday we picked out first little crop of Vidal Blanc grapes for wine. We hauled everything out through the orchard into the teensy vineyard (10 vines to pick), set up the harvest table, (made from old recycled barn timbers) and numerous vessels. Gathered the troops and began. This is our first pick of these grapes so no-one knew what we were going to get. I was thinking if every grape is a milli-sip then I probably would only have one bottle of wine in there. I was the only one allowed to cut the bunches because I am mean like that, so in I went with my clean garage sale enamel basin and my sharp snippers and was pleasantly surprised.
I have picked grapes before. But never in an organic micro vineyard and (sorry Mandy) There were creepy crawlies. Spiders! Many different kinds of spiders and their webs. And Earwigs. I hate earwigs, ever since my mother told me that if I did not make my bed every morning the earwigs would slither IN! Slither is a horrible word for a little kid. In where? Where will they slither? EARwigs! Will they slither into my EARS!? Absolute open mouthed horror. I still rapidly make my bed every morning and tuck it in tight, they only come out in the morning evidently to test your bedmaking skills. Apparently the grapes are terrible at bedmaking. Anyway we were talking about spiders. I have not put up a photo of any spiders as I do not want to be the cause of an ‘incident’.( i.e chgjohn running screaming down the hall in his jim-jams followed closely by a mystified Max and a wild looking parrot) But Our John began to wonder if the webs were going to help with the taste. Well I said they are organic webs!. Then those little fella’s, those tiny yellow and black striped bugs that hover like aliens and LOOK at you. I hate it when they look at me. I call them spit bugs. And those other nasty little insects that eat HOLES into your fruit. Hideous! However I am hip with that. ( I love that term though really I have no idea what it means!) Bugs do not bother me. Spiders in the bunches are not a problem. Ladybirds are kind of sweet. No-one ended up in the juice. I am sure they all washed their feet so all good. But wait there is more!
I have to tell you right now NEVER try to crush your wine on the same property as three overfull vigorous active bee hives. On a good day each bee hive houses more than 30, 000 bees sometimes a lot more and yesterday they all wanted grape juice! I did not feed them their sugar water because naively I thought maybe they would go aroaming far away searching for food and not be a bother. But as we de-stemmed the bunches and the juice began to seep out – we were harrassed, bombarded, buzzed at, stared at, shoved along, shouldered aside, tickled and gently terrorised by insistent little bees. To de-stem you grab a bunch and run your hand down the stem pushing the grapes off into another basin but we had to examine each bunch for naughty bees before each movement. It became a little tense.
So eventually we were forced to become crushing gypsies and began to move about the gardens. We would set up again and then we would work quickly before they found us. Each time we moved we would have about a 20 minute hiatus before we were discovered by one of those dreadfully efficient scout bees who would rush back and tell on us. I had a special spoon for gently removing struggling bees from the wrong containers. They just wanted a little drink.
However we had many more grapes than I had at first thought. No-one got stung. We had lovely big piles of fruit. Plenty to go around. So we proceeded to the first crush stage.
No-ones feet came up to standard so the preliminary crush was done with terribly clean hands! I know it was a cop out but that whole feet thing.. mm. Well. I would not mind so much if they were Young feet or possibly unused never been in socks feet. But in the absence of a barefoot baby to gently dip in and out and stir about, we used hands. There was talk of a potato masher but it was only talk. The hand crushing thing was curiously compelling.
So our destemmed grapes were crushed lightly just to release the juice, then left to sit (covered and hidden from the bees) in all manner of large containers for an hour.
Then into the press. John found the press in the basement a few years ago and remade it so that he could crush apples for his quite undrinkable apple cider. (Once he switched to pear cider we all sighed with relief – but not for long) Now I know this next shot could be interpreted in an ambiguous way but I am expecting you all to be grown ups about it. And yes I am going to use the word Gush! followed closely by the words Woo Hoo! Look at that juice.
Very good aim too.
We only have the equipment for a six gallon procedure or a three gallon one.(Don’t ask me why. I grow the grapes and pick the grapes and Our John makes the wine.) As there were not quite enough grapes for six gallons but plenty for three, I left some of the fruit on the vines for another later smaller crush, with a smaller equation and receptacles. We will do this late one gallon crush after the freeze and look at the difference in taste. Not a bad idea really. And I like to start small.
As John the Silent One took all the necessary readings, sugar level (very good) acidity level (very good). Then strained it thrice. I did the clean up and then did a bad thing. I heaved his most precious of preciouses, The Press, onto its side to clean it, it fell and the handle.. well it kind of .. um.. broke ..broke off actually. The winemaker was not impressed.
It is now sitting in the middle of his workshop looking sad. All armless and friendly but sad. I am forgiven, I think. Well, sometimes these things take time.
But enough of that. Last night John added the yeast. This morning it has been reported that the juice is bubbly, smells good and has begun its slow ascent into wine! (If you will excuse me I shall insert another wee WOO HOO in here.. WooHoo !.. thank you). In a few weeks it is racked/ poured into the lovely enormous imported glass jar designed for the fermenting period (this enormous glass jar has a special name that escapes me for the moment but I am the Grower not the Winemaker, though later I will be the Vinter and sell it all to myself! ) Anyway this jar will contain the wine as it ferments into a sticky white (touch wood) for a few months…too many months probably as Our John is very stern with me about being patient.
When I say Sticky I mean Dessert Wine. These grapes are sweet. And if we play our cards right this should be a lovely little sticky white. So it will be bottled into small dessert wine bottles. Eventually.
And then it rained last night. A good inch, what amazing timing! This shot is the reflection in a puddle. Just so’s you know. And with all the rain I need to go out and get those big fat heavy cows OFF my grass and into the yards until the ground drains a bit. They just pug it up something terrible when it is wet and I am very particular about my grass!
Today we are going to pick and crush the grapes. These are a Vidal Blanc grape on a root stock that will deal with the extended freezing temperatures here in the winter. I can leave the grapes on the vine until they are frozen (resulting in a really sticky white dessert wine) however I don’t really have the volume of grapes for that this year. The longer they hang on the vine the drier they get and this does concentrate the flavours. Then if they get a few good freezes this creates an extra series of taste sensations. But as you can imagine you will then have way less juice. Less juice means less wine and we all know what less wine means!
So this year we have decided to harvest a little earlier. Once again we are doing it the old fashioned way. No meters or gadgets, just observation and taste. And an old re-jiggered crusher that we found in the basement. The grapes have darkened to a blushy pink and they taste very sweet, the pips are brown. They are pulling off the stalk very easily. So. Today we pick. The time is now. A few friends are on their way over. And as soon as the fog clears and the grapes dry we will get underway.
I will take some pictures (on my rubbish camera as my good one has spat the proverbial dummy) and let you know all about it tomorrow. Now I have to get busy with my preparations. One of which is to make a nice spinach soup and some fresh bread for a casual supper out in the cool autumnal orchard when we are finished.
I have been making this soup for years so it is a great favourite. When I make it today I shall double the ingredients. In a large saucepan, (I use a wok) heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil. ADD
Cook until the onions are slightly browned and bacon is cooked but NOT crispy. Then ADD
Toss the potatoes in the bacon and onion mixture and cook until hot then ADD (why has my text suddenly shrunk!)
Serve with a swirl of cream and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Yes I am finally eating the parmesan!! It is only five months old and I know I am about 6 months too early but I can wait No longer! I have six wheels of parmesan down there so I do not feel too naughty.. Don’t tell the cheese police!