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.
Every Christmas Our John studies the seed catalogues, makes lists, loses the lists, makes more lists, studies more catalogues then finally orders piles of tomato seeds. He orders all kinds of other seeds as well but the tomato for him is the Major Crop. This is the mans plant. A man’s munch. In late February when the weather outside has been sub-zero for weeks and our lives have become frigid sepia, he snuggles his seeds into tiny pots and the trays sit by the fire to germinate. Then into the garden window. I call him crazy starting so early and he says you’ll see. His aim is to eat one of his own tomatoes on the Fourth of July. This is The Matriarchs aim too so there is always a not so light-hearted rivalry each year.
As the winter grinds along the plants out-grow the window, like snails they exchange their little pots for bigger pots and begin to creep across the floors of the house chasing the sun from the skylights. Woe betide any plant that dares to become leggy. During the very early days of spring when the temps rise slightly every damn plant is carted outside for some sunning and then hauled back into the house every evening when the temps drop again.
He turns piles of compost. Then won’t share it. Carefully creating the huge perfect tomato beds. Tomatoes are hungry plants evidently.
Once the plants are in the ground, with a clay tile placed around each one, staked and with cages in the wings, they are watered and heaped with more well-rotted delicious smelling compost to keep down the weeds. If a frost threatens he is out there covering his wee babies with blankies. I raise my eyebrows and he says you’ll see.
Then we wait. We do not buy out of season tomatoes. So this really is a terrible wait. We are getting desperate for a tomato. He waters and waits. Then waters some more and waits some more. And yes every year by the Fourth of July he seems able to coax one or two tomatoes to red juicy deliciousness. Usually Prairie Fire. They are tiny plants that come and go very fast and fruit early. We sit in the sun and eat them like apples. It is joy. And yes I do see.
So the tomatoes begin to trickle in, then they roll in like a leap tide, then there is a flood and soon the harvest reaches cataclysmic proportions that I am so grateful for in the winter but not so much today. The verandah has baskets of them in various stages of ripeness waiting their turn in the kitchen. My larder and freezer are groaning under the weight of tomatoes put down, put up and sent sideways, I am nagging for more shelves in the basement, our friends are carting away bags of them, I am trolling the internet for recipes. ( Here are this weeks favorites.)
tomato conserva If you have a day at home, go for it, the results are fantastic. I am making jars of this .. it is divine.
tomato pie A new one for us but tasty and quick.
Insalata: slices of ripe warm freshly picked tomato, slices of good mozarella cheese and ripped basil. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle a little really good olive oil on top. EAT! I ate this every day in Italy with locally made cheese. Just pure simple love on a plate.
Any tomatoes that are not perfect – well the cows and chooks have them thrown over their fences every day like edible missiles.
At dinner time we quite decadently cut hug-sized slices of our favourite variety of the day for our plates. We only choose the really meaty center slice and we are so spoilt we throw the rest into the chook bucket. Our chins run with the juice. It is a feast.
So while we are in full swing I will introduce you to the Our Johns Four Favourites of 2012. These seeds were purchased online from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Purple Cherokee has been by far the best producer this year. Medium size fruit. Sweet and juicy, peels easily. Good sized plants. This is already on the list for next year. Top for yield.
Yellow Mortgage Lifter. Johns current favorite to eat with his dinner. It fruits mid season. Medium sized. Certainly the best tastiest yellow tomato he has grown.
Brandy Wine. Our Johns old favorite. My favorite for sauce. This tomato is a huge fruit from an enormous plant. You have to drop in boiling water before peeling though. Tough skinned. Ripens mid season. Average producers but good heavy fleshy fruit.
My favorite. This is the one I pan fry in butter every morning and eat with basil for my breakfast. It is a large tomato, good yield and ripens mid season. Holds its shape in salads. The one in the shot is a little unripe, when good and ripe the flesh is a lovely dark red. I use this one in the insalata.
Talking of mozarella and tomatoes reminds me of a recipe given to me by a lovely Italian woman when I was on the Amalfi coast. I will write it up for you tomorrow. I do not know its name but it is quite divine.
See you then
First the BAD NEWS. While fooling about with my newly extended lens yesterday I managed to scratch the lens. I just cannot believe I did that. A strong line was curved across every image I took yesterday. I cannot clean the mark away. Senior Son has put his thinking cap on but from now until I can find a replacement I will shoot knowing that I will be cropping about a third out of every image. The good news is that I did not actually cry.
And now more bad news. Daisy (my Ayrshire heifer) is NOT pregnant. My pursuit of making my own cheese from my own milk has hit a bump in the road. But all is not lost. The good news is that on Monday we will start a series of injections to bring her into heat. If all goes well she will calve in May. Which is a lovely month with lots of spring grass and not too hot. So fingers firmly crossed again.
Don’t you be giving me that look Miss Daisy! You are in the dog box madam.
Now where is my third crisis? Bad luck comes in threes you know (Another superstition!) But really such small problems I am having …
No you are all wrong. This is a butter mold. I found it in a little antique shop last night. It is a bit wonky but quite a find for me. I cannot make one of these. So next time I make butter I can squish the whey out with this thingy and it will be a nice shape too. Now all we need is a cow who gives creamy milk instead of dirty looks! I am so lucky to be able to get my fresh milk from the lady down the road until Daisy begins to feed the farm.
And the other good news is that this is the last of the bee shots until I take a really fantastic one. Their expressions never change!! What about a smile!? Maybe one of them scratched my lens in protest at having it pushed into their faces once too often. Poor girls.
AS well as taking a little honey from my bees, it is time to think about doing everything I can to ensure their survival through our brutal winters. My rule is two full supers of honey per hive by winter. Two hives are looking quite short so I have begun to supplement feed them already. I know it is early but they need a little help until the late summer flowers start to bloom.
The weak hive will never get up to par before winter. You will remember that we checked it for mites and disease on Tuesday. All clean. It will be combined with the Blog hive. The Blog Hive is roaring ahead very quickly increasing its numbers and storing away its honey. It is a calm strong hive that will be grateful for the extra hands I hope. We will use the newspaper method for the merger. Kind of ironic actually. Newspapers and mergers!
The weak hive appears queenless. They have gathered some honey which is good.
I could find no larvae in the hive at all. Weirdly I cannot see any queen cells either. Also it appears that the hive has more drones than usual. Which happens in the absence of a queen bee. The queen in the Blog Hive will have something to say about them I am sure.
OK, I talked to the weak hive telling them that it might be scary at first but I was sure they would make friends at their new condo and if they got bored waiting they could read the newspaper before they started eating it. Then I moved their super (the super is the box full of bees) closer to the Blog Hive. Then I took the TOP super off the Blog Hive, laid a sheet of newspaper over the top of the BOTTOM Blog super and its nosy bees. (They got the comic strips). I made a tiny slit in the paper with a knife. I positioned the Weak Hive super on top of the newspaper, then another sheet of newspaper on top of that, another slit and the second Blog Hive super returned to the top.
In two weeks I will go back and take a look. By then bees should have nibbled through the paper. Thereby slowly getting acquainted with the each other. Hopefully the new bees will be absorbed into their hive. The queen will have them smacked around the head a bit for being such bad housekeepers and then set them to work. The drones will be sent out to sit on rocks and sulk. Here it is all closed up again. I hope I have not started a war.
You can see the newspaper above and below the Weak hive.
No that is not a shot of my brain! Though my brain often feels a little green and soppy!!