I can’t seem to use a phone in the summer

I’ve been all over the place this summer, from Anchorage to Boston to Brattleboro to Midcoast Maine to Fox Hollow Farm, and if you’ve tried to get in touch with me, I’m so sorry. I’ve been awful at phone calls and emails and every other kind of contact. I miss the routine solitude of my life in the village.

Nicole, I am so bummed I missed you in Anchorage. My old phone was very dead around that time and by the time I replaced it and figured out how to check my voicemail on the new machine, you were long gone. Cathy, I’ll give you a call this week and we’ll set up a visit in Maine.

My struggle with communication is just one way I’ve been having trouble adjusting to summer. I was on the T the other day in Boston and I just couldn’t shake the thought: People do this every day. I can’t believe people do this every day.

I know I’m spoiled. In the village, I almost never have to sit on my butt just to get from place to place. I absolutely never have to sit on my butt in a dank-smelling, grubby metal tube full of  strangers.

I know the city has its perks: Sean has been taking sailing lessons, going to the art museum, and hosting ice cream socials (Margarita sorbet? Wasabi maple ice cream anyone?). There are restaurants, theaters, intriguing strangers and old friends.

Old friends are the best.

Boston is full of folks from college and from Arkansas. It’s so strange and wonderful to be surrounded by people I’ve known for such a long time.

Bethan gave an incredibly powerful and personal performance in Brattleboro after a year of circus training with NECCA. None of us remained dry-eyed.

I woke up a few days ago with Bre’s son crawling across my bed in the guest room. He has a great smile and sweet curls and a friendly nature, and he seems to be a fan of nori rolls (at least of smooshing them up and getting them all over people and things). Bre is the first of my close friends to have kids: I’ve never known a baby that I’m sure I’ll know forever. This is really something.

Tim inspired a really successful birthday gift. He and I are going backpacking before I head back to Alaska. Look out, wilderness, we’re back!

Now I’m in Ohio, and Jesse and Chelsea have filled their home with wonderful people, as usual. It’s busy and cheerful and warm and tasty and creative. I have my hammock in the woods for quiet space among the fireflies, and otherwise it’s all games and cooking and farm stuff and talk with important, beloved people.

Still, I miss the simplicity of life in the village.

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Camped on the spit in Homer.

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Dinner!

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Mom in her garden, the climbing roses in bloom.

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Rock On Spruce Spring Seat

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Lobster!

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The view from my hammock on the farm in Ohio.

 

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North Pole or Bust

DSC01599No, we’re not actually driving to Alaska. That’d be ridiculous. We are on a nice long sleigh ride, though: Good ol’ Carro has once again carried us to Ohio to visit our friends at the farm.  He hiccupped a bit in Memphis, squealing at 1700 rpms, but we shrugged our shoulders, made a gamble, and ignored it. It paid off. We made it to Louisville in good time, and spent the night with Bethan. She woke up with Bruno Mars hair and made us pancakes.

I spent a stupid hour on the floor of a Louisville post office this morning, sealing up flat rate boxes full of pepperonis and coconut milk with crappy dollar store tape. The woman behind the counter was a little hard of hearing and we miscommunicated with abandon. It would have been frustrating and miserable, but Sean made me laugh and we sang along to the radio together, ignoring the stares of the less absurd P.O. patrons as we belted box after box with loud strips of tape. I am going miss the snot outta him.

"Alaska, population 2"

A student’s take on my move: “Alaska, population 2”

In case you were wondering…

Breakfast Bunny was surprisingly tasty

Breakfast Bunny was surprisingly tasty. A little weird, but very edible.

We had a blast visiting our Ohio family. We got a chance or two to be helpful, and we learned a lot from their systems, dreams and schemes.
Here’s a photo version of a day at the farm, beginning with morning chores.

The cows provide milk, cream and butter for the family, but my understanding is that most of the milk goes to the pigs, providing them with a great source of (relatively inexpensive) protein.

The cows provide milk, cream and butter for the family, but my understanding is that most of the milk goes to the pigs, providing them with a great source of (relatively inexpensive) protein.

The golf cart pulls the chicken tractors! It's a whole lot easier to move their three than it is to move our single tractor by hand.

The golf cart pulls the chicken tractors! It’s a whole lot easier to move their three than it is to move our single tractor by hand. The chicken tractors are moved every day to provide the Cornish Cross broilers with fresh grass and a new supply of bugs to eat.

The draft

The draft horses graze ahead of the chicken tractors to clear a path in the tall pasture. Genius!

Sean is the pig whisperer

Sean is the pig whisperer

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Pumping water is one of the big electrical draws at the farm, and patching hoses is a big draw on manpower. These pigs are helping to create a pond that will provide livestock water with no hoses and no electricity!

Pumping water is one of the big electrical draws at the farm, and patching hoses is a big draw on manpower. These pigs are helping to create a pond that will provide livestock water with no hoses and no electricity!

Behold! The pond-makers in action!

Behold! The pond-makers in action!

They are the prettiest, happiest, muddiest snurflepigs I've ever seen!

They are the prettiest, happiest, muddiest snurflepigs I’ve ever seen!

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We went out looking for a group of lambs that had an appointment with the butcher. These appointments are made months in advance.

After chores, we went out looking for a group of lambs that had an appointment with the butcher. These appointments are made months in advance.

The pastures at the farm are gorgeously in bloom this time of year. Where are those sheep?

The pastures at the farm are gorgeously in bloom this time of year. They’re also very tall and easy to hide in. Where are those sheep?

Sean is sad because there's a lot of work ahead of him. The lambs we were looking for escaped and got mixed in with the flock!

Sean is sad because there’s a lot of work ahead of him. The lambs we were looking for escaped and got mixed in with the flock!

Baaa! We had to herd the entire flock through a narrow gate. They walked in circles for a while before they noticed the opening.

Baaa! We had to herd the entire flock through a narrow gate. They walked in circles for a while before they noticed the opening.

Once the sheep got going, it was mostly a matter of keeping up.

Once the sheep got going, it was mostly a matter of keeping up.

Jesse, Sean and Dante are separating the desired animals from the rest of the flock and sending them down a chute to the trailer.

Jesse, Sean and Dante are separating the desired animals from the rest of the flock and sending them down a chute to the trailer.

Get in there!

Get in there!

It was a beautiful day for a lot of work.

It was a beautiful day for a lot of work.

After a long day, Jesse, Fezzik and Sean teamed up for evening chores

After a long day, Jesse, Fezzik and Sean teamed up for evening chores

The pigs and chickens graze together. Pigs make good predator protection for the chickens.

The pigs and chickens graze together. Pigs make good predator protection for the chickens.

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The Farmer’s Table, July 2014

Every muscle in my body is sore from this week of hard work, but especially sore are the ones I use for smiling. When everyone had left the Farmer’s Table last night, we abandoned the dishes, scattered on the table like exhausted revelers in the glow of the garlic chandelier, and slowly strolled down the driveway. This place is more irresistible every time we visit.

Friends, white wine, sweet-tasting evening breezes, Queen Anne's Lace flowers hovering over the pastures like tiny clouds.

Friends, white wine, sweet-tasting evening breezes, Queen Anne’s Lace flowers hovering over the pastures like tiny clouds.

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The Farmer’s Table is Chelsea’s venture, a monthly dining experience hosted by the farm. There’s a farm tour, a hands-on-experience, and, at last, a three course meal served family style on the patio that showcases the farm’s meat and local, seasonal vegetables. Sean was a guest chef for this event, which constituted his public debut. We all worked for the better part of two days to prepare: Sean and Chelsea created a menu and began cooking well in advance while Jesse and I did the enabling work of dishes and venue preparation.

The lamb ribs had to thaw

The lamb ribs had to thaw

The ice cream had to be rolled up and refrozen

The ice cream had to be rolled up and refrozen

The potatoes had to be harvested

The potatoes had to be harvested

On the big day, it rained buckets. While we worked on the tent, there was lightning. the weather man issued a tornado watch, Chelsea made brioche, Sean made a pork-belly slider for a mockup, we all drooled, I decorated the tent, and Jesse built a gutter and awning system not thirty minutes before the kickoff to ensure that no one would get soaked in the rain on his or her walk to the bathroom. We were nervous. Tornado watches are not good news for outdoor dinners.

When the guests arrived, Jesse greeted them and gave them a short tour of the farm, his eyes on the sky. I met them with a basket full of umbrellas, just in case. Each couple or family got a pair of scissors and a basket to cut flowers, and we all met on the front porch to arrange them in mason jars for the table. One family had two small children, and the little girl was tremendously excited that her flowers would decorate the dinner table. That done, Jesse swept the guests off to watch the evening milking, and we had a few minutes to do some last minute prep. I placed the flower arrangements on the table, and it looked beautiful.

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When milking was over, the guests made their way to the table and Chelsea and Sean’s big moment was upon them: the first course.

The chefs were nervous, but excited

The chefs were nervous, but excited

Sean whipped up some sweet wings for the kids. We hadn't realized just how little they'd be, and he was worried that they wouldn't like adult fare he and Chelsea had prepared.

Sean whipped up some sweet wings for the kids. We hadn’t realized just how little they’d be, and he was worried that they wouldn’t like adult fare he and Chelsea had prepared.

Grilled chicken wings tossed with Asian inspired sweet and spicy sauces, served with nasturtium flowers on a bed of kale chips.

Grilled chicken wings tossed with Asian inspired sweet and spicy sauces, served with nasturtium flowers on a bed of kale chips and garnished with shaved onion and fennel.

There’s nothing like eating chicken wings with strangers to break the ice.  After the first breathless rush, everything went smoothly. Jesse and I dined with the guests and chatted about the food or farming while Sean and Chelsea continued at a manic pace in the kitchen, turning out course after beautiful course.

The second course was plated for each individual.

The second course was plated for each individual.

The chefs presented each course to the guests with a description: "the light, fresh look of our pork belly sliders is deceiving. You'll find them surprisingly rich."

The chefs presented each course to the guests with a description:
“the light, fresh look of our pork belly sliders is deceiving. You’ll find them surprisingly rich.”

Pork belly sliders served on brioche with fennel slaw and microgreens and a splash of Asian barbeque sauce.

Pork belly sliders served on brioche with fennel slaw, local micro-greens and a splash of Asian barbeque sauce.

Jesse's expression is fairly representative of the sliders' reception: blissful, blissful silence at the table.

Jesse’s expression is fairly representative of the sliders’ reception: blissful, blissful silence at the table.

The main course was slow-roasted lamb ribs with a tangy coriander pomegranate glaze; roasted fennel glazed with local maple syrup; cucumber and tomato salad with feta, all sourced locally; and roasted potato salad with herb dressing. I was too busy consuming my share of the feast to take many pictures, I’m afraid.

The head chef grinning ear to ear with her main course in hand.

The head chef grinning ear to ear with her main course in hand.

After a short break wherein the guests surreptitiously let their belts out a notch (not really, as far as I know, but you get the picture) came dessert. Dessert was mouthwatering to look at and symphonic to taste. It couldn’t have been a more perfect take on the classic ice cream sandwich.
“Did you make the ice cream here?” on woman asked.
“Of course. We used eggs and cream grown right here on the farm.”
Her jaw nearly hit the floor.

Sugar beets grown on the farm were grated and dried to make these crisp, yet chewy cookies. The blueberries in the compote were locally sourced, and the lemon-lavender ice cream was made here from eggs and cream

Sugar beets grown in Chelsea’s garden were grated and dried to make these crisp, yet chewy cookies. The blueberries in the compote were locally sourced, and the lemon-lavender ice cream was made here from eggs and cream produced on the farm.

Everyone stayed to talk after the meal, to ask how the pork belly was prepared or to comment that they’d never imagined that fennel could taste so good. When the last guests had left after promising to reserve for the next three dinners and to give The Farmer’s Table a sparkling review on tripadvisor, the four of us shared a happy, laughing, bouncing hug, and then a glass of wine, which takes us back to the beginning of this post. If you are in Ohio, you will not regret a pilgrimage to Fox Hollow Farm to eat at Chelsea’s Farmer’s Table. Check out her website or facebook page to make reservations.

Carnivory in Ohio

We all slept poorly last night. It was hot, and the ticking ceiling fan and open windows couldn’t cool our dry skin. Chelsea and I rose from our sleepless beds at sunrise and ran down the farm’s long gravel driveway and then to the end of the road.
“Good morning moo cows. Good morning hounds. Good morning sheep. Good morning chickens.”
The dawn spilled over the hill that cradles the farm and sopped into the clouds that had carpeted the sky overnight. The breeze was cool and it left a chill where it lifted the sweat from our necks. The sky was soaked in a watercolor purple, and the birds were chirruping in the blooming weeds that filled the ditches. My legs hurt. As we started the jog back up the driveway, the world brightened and began to glow in Technicolor. I let a smile stretch my face.

The countryside in this part of Ohio is idyllic in mid-summer. The roadsides are overwhelmed with queen anne’s lace and something that flowers purple, the trees are blushing green, and the rollercoaster hills are spread with sunny pasture and crisp shady forest, and sprinkled with weathered barns and cattle. When we arrived yesterday, I went for a long run in the heat of the day. The heat billowing off the pavement and the gluey, humid air could have been Arkansan, but there was no mistaking the ambience of Midwestern Americana. When I got back, dinner prep was in full swing. We ate ribeyes from right here at the farm to kick off the inevitable week of carnivory that’s to come. We could hear cows mooing from our table on the patio.

Before the sun was fully up, Sean, Chelsea and I were weeding raised beds in one of the hoophouses. Jesse brought out steaming cups of coffee, and we surveyed our progress, listening to the beginnings of rain on the plastic roof.

Breakfast was Ohio eggs, potatoes and sausage with Arkansan tomatoes and cucumbers. Lunch was all Ohio: raw zucchini pasta with basil and nasturtium flowers, beet greens and crispy onion crostini, and broccoli raab. Not home-grown: bread flour, lemons, olive oil, balsamic vinegar. Summer is the best time of year. I forget what grocery shopping feels like for days or weeks at a time.

We accompanied our friends to the farmers market this afternoon. They sell grass-finished beef and lamb and pastured pork and poultry, in addition to eggs. I listened with pride as they fielded questions about the humanity of their farming practices and the quality of their meat products and eggs.
“Is there an agency that certifies that your animals are raised humanely?”
“Our certifying organization is our customers. We’re happy to give farm tours so that you can satisfy yourself that our animals are treated humanely.”
“Are these eggs free-range?”
“Free-range can mean that the hens have access to a concrete slab. Our hens are pastured. They eat plants and insects in addition to their organic feed, and their access to the outdoors is unlimited.”
This is a business to be proud of, and those eggs are worth every penny their customers pay for them.

Sean and Jesse hamming it up at the market

Sean and Jesse hamming it up at the market

Tomatoes are just coming on up here in the North. Sean selected this luscious beauty at the market.

Tomatoes are just coming on up here in the North. Sean selected this luscious beauty at the market.

Dinner was Thai food. Sean and I enjoyed the extraordinary luxury of ordering dishes that incorporated quality meats. My (droolworthy) masaman curry featured locally raised beef! I was swooning all through dinner. This was easily the best Thai food I’ve had in years. The four of us stopped at the grocery store on the way home and picked up two pints of Jeni’s ice cream for dessert, which is locally made and incredible. In the checkout line, we realized that we had no spoons and no way to transport the ice cream home without excessive meltage.
“Where’s the metal cutlery?” Sean asked.
“Aisle nine or ten” replied the cashier.
We looked, but couldn’t find it. We looked again, then met up in toiletries, befuddled.
“I’ve just had an idea,” Sean stated. “Let’s find cones and get an ice cream scoop. It’s better than plastic spoons that we’ll just throw away.”
So we did.

Sean scooped us each a cone and, as the ice cream began to melt, scooped us each another. We rolled over the hills in the dusky evening sunshine in a perfect, blissful, ice cream silence.

“Aw, shit!” Jesse exclaimed as we crested a hill. He swerved, but caught the rabbit anyway. It lay still in the road behind us, receding as the truck charged on.
“Go back.” Sean said.
“What?”
“Go back. We can take it home and skin it.”
“What?”
“We could eat it for breakfast if it’s in good shape. Keely can at least tan the hide.”
“Yeah! I absolutely can!” I said
Sean grinned. “We’ve been in Arkansas for… two years now?”
Laughter.

Skinning game animals might be an Arkansas thing, but eating roadkill is decidedly a liberal hippie environmentalist thing. We had late night beer floats not two days ago with two young intellectual-type people who had broken their vegetarianism on roadkill.

Meet Breakfast Bunny!

Meet (Meat) Breakfast Bunny!

The rabbit was in good shape when we picked it up. It had been hit only in the head. It had bitten through its tongue and one eye was lolling out of its socket, but the hide was completely intact and no damage was done to the internal organs. I got the rabbit skinned and gutted with a minimum of fuss, though I lost the tail. Fleshing is proving to be the hardest part of the process for me. I tore the hide in several places and didn’t succeed in removing all of the fat and membrane from the skin. I did, however, wind up with a perfectly respectable attempt at a clean hide, which was conveniently sized and shaped for a brief puppet show.

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