It’s finally happened, Fluff and Nut, Mario, Gaga, and the rest of the silkies have new chicken tractors to call home. The buffs will have one, the splash and blues in another. . . . seems like the making of a classic rivalry. I have to cop to the fact that after I stopped singing songs from West Side Story to the chickens that I descended into singing the theme to “F Troop” in my head.
They will be heading out into the pasture soon enough, but for the moment we are going to park them on top of some cheat grass and let them go to town. Once they’re used to their new digs, they’ll be hitting the road.
Of course all my Rhody friends will be reminding me that Quonset Point is in Rhode Island, and that my love for the form obviously stems from my fifteen years living in the biggest little state in the union.
The pasture has never been in great shape. The irrigation system has always been cobbled together, and the pipes were never large enough to take advantage of our full allotment of water. although we own five acre feet of water, the irrigation company we are a part of feeds by gravity: 40 psi just won’t drive the volume of water we need through a 1-1/2″ pipe. Redoing the system has always been on the table, but delayed by various things financial and physical: money, a quarter million pounds of sandstone that we had stock piled for a time. . . and of course, just chasing bigger problems.
That is changing this year, we are remaking the irrigation with 3″ pipe, new valves, and other improvements that will allow us to deliver the volume of water the pasture needs. More than that, it will allow us to live a small dream of mine–rethinking what is in and around a pasture. This is one place where the language of conservation is failing us, because we are so focused on preservation and restoration that we rarely give much thought to ground completely transformed by use. In valuing wilderness we sometimes overlook the role that the pasture can play in the larger ecological system. The pasture is more often the problem: the source of nutrient pollution, a monoculture inhospitable to pollinators and a source of exotic seed spread by bird, wind and hoof. The pasture, however, is also an essential part of our cultural landscape, a landscape that has supported generations of people. Until very recently, the presence of domestic animals was essential to our lives. The question I want to ask is how can we reshape our cultural landscape to work in closer harmony with the near-wild lands surround us, such that the presence of the pasture supports rather than degrades the surrounding ecosystem?
I have been circling around this idea for some time, but, the idea was driven home when I saw a video of grazing sheep in Italy. They were ranging across multiple properties, gleaning from and fertilizing fields, dining on herbs that could be found in salads just as easily as they could be found on the fence line. As a cultural landscape, you could see the local customs and aesthetic expectations for how the land should look were in relative harmony–there was no evidence of mowing, or herbicide used on fence lines. There was clearly a wide range of species growing in the interstitial spaces between cultivated fields, roads and houses. The landscape simply “was”, and it was beautiful. While it might seem odd to reconsider or design a cultural landscape, the particular cultural landscape in which I live is barely 120 years old: given the age of the European landscape I am thinking of, it would seem that the die might not be entirely cast.
My evolving “Pasture Principles:”
1) Contain water on site. Animal waste is an inescapable part of grazing on a pasture. All run off should be contained on site such that it is infiltrated into the ground as fertilizer at levels that it can be utilized by the vegetation, or collected such that it can be recycled. At no time should water run off the site on the surface, or enter an adjacent waterway. Plant drainage ways to take up nutrients and slow the flow of water.
2) Plant the margins. Margins, fence lines, and areas inaccessible to grazers should be planted with native and naturalized plants that provide pollinator forage, and are aesthetically pleasing. They should be competitive enough to shade out invasive grasses present in the surrounding area (provided enough of a head start). This will both help to contain the pasture, and present the infiltration of undesired species. Higher growing plant material at fence lines and around the perimeter of the pasture adds texture to break the wind at the surface of the ground. Eliminate the need for mowing and weeding the fence line to the greatest extent possible.
3) Incorporate plant diversity in the pasture. Where native brush establishes itself, allow it to remain. Plant a variety of herbs and legumes so that there is true biodiversity. This will aid in resilience and drought tolerance, and will reduce the amount of grasses that need to be planted. Actively identify and remove the most problem species, and avoid planting aggressive grasses known to be potential problems in the larger landscape. Provide varied nutrition for livestock.
4) Use rotational grazing in a subdivided pasture. Allow plants to become established without grazing pressure, and graze grasses before they go to seed. Allow time for waste left on the pasture to be taken up and utilized by plant materials.
5) Incorporate shade. Locate shade trees at appropriate locations in the pasture to provide shelter for animals and to reduce the stress on irrigated vegetation in the heat of the summer: reduce the need for irrigation
I finished the site grading a few years ago. . . I am having fun designing my seed mixes in anticipation of the new irrigation system. I am thankful that I have friends with extensive expertise in the specific flora of our area (one of the advantages to living next to a National Park). I will post the mixes, and the progress, as it unfolds. I will also note that my friend Junichi, who appears elsewhere in this blog, is attempting to do “No Work Farming” in the model of Masanobu Fukuoka in South Carolina. . . I think the species we farm in the desert are so foreign to this landscape that such a thing is almost unthinkable here, but I look forward to seeing his experiment unfold.
Tom dressed out to be sixteen and a half pounds. I rested him in the refrigerator for the last few days. I wanted to give the meat the time and attention it deserved, and after as much work as it was to clean and dress him, I needed some time to clear my own head as well. I have cooked and handled a lot of poultry, but never in all my days had I seen a turkey with so much fat on him.
He moved to the counter this morning so I could bring him to room temperature before roasting. Being young, and having a thick layer of fat, I opted for a high temperature roast. Two hours at 500 degrees. The skin seared nicely and sealed the juices in–and, there is something so beautiful about that mahogany colored skin–like the bird was plucked from an eighteenth century painting. Those butterball thanksgiving turkeys all look so pale!
I rarely get emotional when I carve a turkey. This time, however, I was possessed with a great sense of pride–the preparation did the meat justice, and as hoped, the meat was moist and flavorful. To take a life and accomplish less would be so sad. We will be eating this turkey for days and days; I have already reserved the drippings and giblets for a special gravy.
After dinner we had a call from Randy, the butcher, and discussed the cuts of meat we wanted from Maurice and Wiener. Strange timing to be sure, but welcome. Racks, shanks, necks and breasts–it will be very good. I look forward to preparing and sharing it all. Listing the cuts it’s hard not to think of Suzanne Vega singing “Fancy Poultry Parts,” except that the Mason Brothers are playing in the background, and I am too lazy to change the music. Amy and I are unwinding from what was a very long workday–tryptophan induced slumber. . .that is until it is time to close the pens and coops. . . night check.
An experiment worth repeating. The carbonation offsets the sweet of the melon, and the fizz on the tongue is certainly fun.
Nothing could be easier to make. Simply cut into small chunks, and fill a whipper to the line. I used 2 charges of CO2 for my half liter whipper. Taking a cue from the soda siphons, I popped the entire affair into the fridge for a few hours before dispensing anything. No guilt decadence for sure.
I have been reading a lot about the whippers on the net. As great as they are, there is a certain point beyond which using the thing is silly. Some things are still better done with a whisk, and a little patience. I chuckled to myself when I saw a recipe for mayonnaise in a whipper, and the recipe indicated that one should gently whisk the oil into the egg yolk. Essentially, the recipe read, “make mayonnaise, put in whipper.” Technology is fun, but, it has a place. It all reminds me of the way that the promoters of the immersion blender convinced us that their tool was essential for for making mayo, when all that was really needed was some forethought.
Who does not love a popover? This is one of those things I have spent many a weekend making and perfecting. There does not seem to be a shortage of advice on getting the best pop. My friend, Heather P. first introduced me to these delights in Santa Barbara, where I went for a pleasant weekend of decompression more than a handful of years ago. “Pedro, popovers are a breeze, just get a pan. . .” Of course, I had to figure out why some weekends were perfect, and others, um. . . did not rise to the occasion.
Generally, the Cooks Illustrated recipe seems to get it right, especially the part about a hot oven, and working fast. Personally, however, I was unconvinced about resting the batter. This was an extra half an hour everyone had to wait, or worse, a half hour less sleep for the cook. No thank you on either.
The rest, in my mind, is about nothing more than starting with a higher batter temperature. Our refrigerators are generally pretty darn cold–especially in our very food safety conscious world, and frankly, a little room temperature rest is not a guarantee of consistent popping results. . . . what is? Warm your ingredients. Once I made this change to the process, everything else worked the same, every time, without fail.
Popovers a la Pedro (save for some procedural changes, the same as the Cooks Illustrated Recipe):
Dispense 1/4 teaspoon of oil into each of the 6 cups in your popover pan
Place pan in oven, and preheat to 475 (I generally keep a pizza stone in my oven, doing so is a good add to making pop overs, as you don’t want to loose heat: the stone gives you some thermal momentum).
Warm 2 eggs to 100 degrees-ish (still in their shell) using warm water from the tap. Do the same for 1 cup of whole milk (thank you microwave).
Whisk 1/4 teaspoon of salt into 1 cup of flour.
Whisk egg and milk together. Add a couple drops of vanilla if you want.
Whisk flour and salt mixture into egg and milk mixture.
Whisk in 1 tablespoon of melted butter into the batter–it will be smooth, and a few bubbles never hurt anyone. I use my new favorite silicone bowl, since it is easy to pour from . . .
Wait for the oven to hit 475. . . .I guess this is sort of a rest. . . by default. . . but not half an hour.
Remove the pan quickly (closing oven door), and dispense the batter equally between the cups. Work fast. .
Return the pan to the oven, and, bake at 475 for 20 minutes. Don’t open the door! That is why you have an oven light and a window.
Reduce heat to 350, and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Again, keep that door closed.
1tbs butter melted
six 1/4 tsp of oil
It was near 100 today, at least according to my thermometer. In the afternoon heat, the cranky tom met his end. Even as I am more sure with my knife, and know that I did my job well, the violence of farm life will never be lost on me. Waste or gluttony seem unimaginable at this moment. I suppose one could become callous over time, but I hope that I never do. This life is a choice, and a luxury–most people in this country have long been liberated from the drudgery of plucking. That said, it is an exercise that causes me to contemplate all the violence done in my name–not just the violence I can see. With the sun behind me, and the water evaporating off the rock, it was not hard to think of the great dessert landscape all around me–to think of how this place looks from the air–being ‘here’ and completely lost in a vast landscape at the same time.
With apologies to the Jolly Green Giant, I much prefer foamed banana. . .
Two bananas, some milk, a tiny (itty bitty) touch of cream so there would be a little fat. . . cardamon, and a tablespoon of baker’s sugar. Mixed it all with an immersion blender until it was like thick cream, filled almost to the line. Put it in the whipper, and, charged it with two cartridges. Shook well.
Potassium never felt so decadent. Probably should have had something to dust on the top, but then again, this is just a test . . .
I wish I could say test one with the mushy peas was a complete success, but it was not. . . .
Of course, just about anyone you can find on the net passes their puree through a chinois before attempting to spray it. . the need to do this should be followed by a description of the consequences of not doing so. I had peas in the air, peas in my hair. . .peas everywhere. I left the kitchen looking like I just got the “money shot” from the Jolly Green Giant.
So, we had re-fried potatoes with beets and
whipped peas. . pea sauce. . . and a pork chop, flash seared after being cooked sous vide. The re-fried potatoes were a smash (cue rim shot). Of course, Amy and I were rolling in the aisles–because despite my best efforts at pea removal, she kept finding bits all over me.
Here is the promising mess, before being made airborne. . . .
We will see how the banana puree (desert) does. Beyond the chinois, it seems that there is a fundamental lesson. If it is a whip, it is cold; if it is hot or warm it’s probably got to be a foam. Noted and remembered forever. Nothing like getting peas off the light fixtures to cement something in your mind. And, should you find yourself saying “I think this is smooth enough,” correct yourself. “Modern Cuisine” is a thoroughly low fiber affair.
This morning I fortunately had the good sense to stick to basics, and turned some of that sour dough bread into french toast- mais oui! Tres bon.
To answer the question of a committed foodie. . . . who wondered what became of the culinary week. . . . .
Exhaustion has been the word. Between long workdays stretching from 7:30-6:00 and getting up at O’dark-thiry so that Amy can milk Peanut, both of us have been coming home pooped in the evening. The last few nights, dinner and chores are what we can muster. So, at a minimum, I have been putting heart and soul (sole too) into dinner, and Amy has been going the extra mile with the animals. The delight of the kitchen is that you are attending to the most basic of needs. Necessity as a foundation for play. . .I did determine, for instance, that left over asparagus makes a fine ravioli filling, providing I hide enough of the cooked asparagus to have leftovers. There are also those tasks that are perfectly suited for the tired self: shredding twelve pounds of cabbage and pressing it into a crock to make sauerkraut? done. Bread? made. Testing that isi thermo whip I bought on Ebay? Done!
You can see that while I still use the weights that came with my crock, their roll is purely accessory: the heavy pressing is done by a big jar of water with a flat bottom. If you have a choice, skip the weights: you will want more mass anyway.
It looks like cream, but its whipped yogurt with strawberry syrup, a tart tangy delight.
The new toy: not the newest model, but a bargain at under $50.00–a little tune up and sanitizing and we were ready to rock desert. Next up? Mushy peas. . . .my wife loves mushy peas (she’s English). I can’t wait to spray them on a fried mashed potato patty. Haute comfort food. We will see what the weekend brings.
The evenings and nights here have been wonderful–temperature wise at least. It seems no matter how hard we try, we end the day exhausted from work outside the farm. Last evening it was hard not to think of Maurice and Wiener as I walked down to put the chickens and turkeys away. Only hours before I had been the harbinger of death–and now, the turkeys cooed in my hands (even the tom). For the moment, all was well. It was hard not to feel some gravity in the moment as I looked up to Venus, Mars and Saturn, shining brightly in the sky, under a sea of stars lighting the dark.
This evening was equally special, though Jumper and Vern regarded me with the utmost caution. Amy and I sat and watched the Filbert and Hazel (the baby goats) jump on Vern’s back (Vern was standing up) and play on him. Vern still kept one eye in my direction. They are knowing and feeling creatures. Still, life continued. Amy put some fertile turkey eggs under our broody hens. Grumpy tom has not managed to get his work done, so, we had to hire out. We watch him try (sideways, backwards, diagonally), but he can’t seem to hit the target. It was hard not to think of the teacher John Cleese plays in Monty Python and the Meaning of Life. . . instructing a room full of boys in sex, literally. I don’t think I could get through to him either though. Beaker, our Narraganset immediately took to her new eggs, and added a few others to her hoard. Amy called my attention to the soft noises she made, as she spoke to the eggs, making gentle vocalizations. We watched My life as a Turkey earlier in the year, and it was nice to hear Beaker doing what all Turkey mothers do. I will admit to talking to our incubator, but somehow I don’t think I ever got it right.
It’s amazing to watch the turkeys, goats and sheep interact. To see one animal perched on another, literally, and to see them spend time together. They have a fellowship among each other that we are only partly privileged to. That was one of the most beautiful aspects of My Life as a Turkey: the film makers captured the experience of being given entre to the world of animals normally hidden from us. [The film was on PBS as part of the Nature series: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/my-life-as-a-turkey/introduction/7268/%5D Although Amy and I are not entirely in their world, as time passes we (sheep and people) understand each other better. When the sheep got loose earlier in the week I did not have to break a sweat to get them corralled. Somehow I just knew what sounds to make and where to walk. We understood each other, and they went where I wanted them to. It is embarrassing to think of the first time we tried to catch a sheep for shearing: sheep and people alike ended up exhausted. Things, in the end are already turning to normal. The chickens, usually fearless eaters, refused scraps from Maurice and Wiener’s heads–though they are getting over it as the scent of their pasture mates is replaced by the smell of decay. It sounds brutal, but in the end it is life on the little farm.