Where’s the MEAT!

Brad is busy building a house. He’s out literally from dawn to well past dusk renovating (tearing down?) a summer cabin and building anew in a flurry of activity to get it done and livable by Thanksgiving. Before we’re buried in snow so deep that they won’t find our frozen bodies until well into spring.

I’m inside the rv in my own flurry of activity – but mine is more the mental rather than physical type. I’m on the computer, off and on, until I go to bed. I’ve never been a manual labor type but even so, my mental fatigue is every bit as real as someone else’s physical exhaustion.

Brad
Me

Same, but different.

Breakfast has always been a “whatever you want” meal, each on our own. I don’t do breakfast. I can’t cook first thing. I have coffee, half a bagel, and wait until the electrons start firing. I have no problem making the “main meal” but I am certainly not interested in cooking full gourmet fare three times a day. Or even twice. We eat Mediterranean style, so our main “supper” is done in the afternoon. And the evening meal, if you are still hungry (which I’m normally not) it’s a sandwich, salad, or leftovers. Easy, light and thrown together quickly.

When I was overloaded on the computer, Brad would sometimes take pity and take me somewhere, anywhere as long as I didn’t have to cook, or clean up afterwards.

Here in the woods, all bets are off.

One of the biggest obstacles for a writer is interruptions. This goes for anyone who has to write anything for a living – I do marketing full time and writing part time. Both involve searching for the right words, put together the right way.

When Brad takes a break, he wants to eat. IMMEDIATELY. And for me, I’m in the middle of doing numbers and writing prose and I look up and think “oh, shit it’s 1 p.m. and the beast will be arriving soon wanting something in his mouth within 10 seconds flat.”

If I had my crock pot (which is still packed away with all my summer clothes, which doesn’t matter now because summer is heading out the door here in Montana) I’d throw a bunch of stuff in it and call it supper. I don’t. So I don’t.

But I”m getting better. I’ve started a bit of planning at breakfast, and by the time Brad gets himself into beast mode, I have a healthy, filling and delicious meal to last him the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, that’s good in theory but not in practice. After I prep, cook, and clean up, I have to jump back on the computer. And by that time, I’m elbow deep into emails, promos, planning, not to mention my promise to blog about the construction process of the home. I promised Brad I’d do that. Even though I have no idea about the process. So I sound like an idiot and make it up as I go along. A promise is a promise after all. I never promised it would be good. So my hope was that the huge afternoon meal would suffice. Silly girl.

Last week, I was horrendously busy doing bookings, loading information on several booking engines, updating social media, answering phone queries … that I had literally grown roots in front of my computer. I forgot to brush my teeth. I hadn’t looked at a mirror all day. My neck and shoulders were stiff, my back hurt and my knees locked up from inertia. I was an aching, rigid, drained yet over caffeinated mess. A mess without a plan.

So that I don’t sound like a complete whiner, I do understand. Brad works harder than anyone I know. He’s out there doing sweaty stuff. Felling trees, lumber milling, peeling logs, digging holes, filling them with concrete, building and installing floor joists. By the way, I just actually learned what a joist was. I had a vague idea, but now I actually know. Brad? He’s a regular Paul Bunyan. And of course, he is starving when he walks in the door. Whereas I’m so worked up, stressed and trying to hit my deadlines that food is the last thing on my mind.

He walked in, looked around and asked “what’s for dinner?” Mind you, he had three huge burritos only a few hours earlier and I thought it would fill up the gnawing ache in is belly. I had one and I would have vomited if I put any other food in my mouth until breakfast.

He started rooting in the fridge, pulling out the egg carton. And then I stepped into it. I asked, innocently enough “you’re going to have eggs? Again? You had 2 eggs for breakfast.”

I had awakened the hibernating bear.

“Well, what am I supposed to eat? There’s no lunch meat, or anything!”

I offered to make a salad, and he informed me that he needed PROTEIN. Again, trying to appease, I said that we had some cooked beans. A good protein!

“BEANS? You expect me to eat BEANS? I need MEAT!”

I was scared, so I let him eat his eggs.

I then vowed that I would do a more Biblical job of feeding the hungry, so started, of course, looking on Facebook. And found an article by a doctor, a cardiologist no less, on the best forms of protein. And so it went …

Mind you, this is one of those annoying videos that you have to sit through to get the answer, and then you’ll have to give up your email and then you’ll be stalked until you give up and get a different email address.

But the doctor set out the protein options starting with the first – cow. Cow is good. NO cow is bad – move on to pig.

Pig could be good, but it’s not. It’s not the ‘other white meat” so don’t be fooled. Chicken is the best bet.

Except it’s not because out of all the protein, fish is the healthiest. Yes. I love fish. We love fish. We can do fish … except

There is too much mercury in fish. It’s not healthy. The best form of protein is BEANS.

We do beans! And legumes! I make a great bean soup and a killer bean, veggie and rice burrito. SAVED. Except

Beans are bad. They used to be good until this doctor found out how bad they are. They have lectins. Lectins can destroy your body. Last thing you want is a lectin messing with you!

At this point the video is winding down, and I’m thinking, if one more person tells me that beets are so good for me, I’m going to grab my Italian Mama wooden spoon and go after the backs of their thighs.

But wait. Dr. Feelgood has the answer. And all I need to do is grab it, and put it on a plate for Brad. Protein. The best ever protein. TWO CHOICES EVEN!

Wait for it …. drumroll please ….

Spirulina and Chlorella!

YUMMY

S

And, if you’re not sure how to prepare these amazing forms of the best protein ever, the good doctor has just the spirulina and chlorella shake that has your name on it. And he will sell it to you for the price of $19.95 plus shipping and handling. I’m dragging out my credit card as we speak.

Yesterday I went to the store. I bought chicken and hamburger and tuna and beans and pork. Today I put together meals enough for a week, and stuck them in the freezer. So we have taco and burrito guts, pasta toppings, chicken sandwich fixings, and pulled pork at the ready.

Because, when I go and meet my new primary care physician, and she inevitably asked me “do you feel safe in your home” i won’t have to say “no. I do not feel safe in my home.” Because I have learned my lesson. Never, under any circumstances, do you poke an angry lion.

These Boots Were Made for Walking

June is my birth month. And every June I get the inevitable question from my sisters … “what do you want for your birthday?”

The answer is quite simple. I simply do not know. I need a lot. I mean, I’m living in a 33 foot RV with an irritable man and 2 big labrador retrievers. I have no room, and as one friend put it “that’s a lot of flesh in one small space.”

There is zero counter space. I love to cook. It’s my bliss. I love creating something spectacular out of what I can scrounge up in the refrigerator. But with an EZ bake oven, a Suzy Homemaker fridge, and counterspace taken up by a dish drain and kettle (which is all that the tiny counter holds) I find myself throwing hot dogs in a pot and calling it dinner. It’s not me. I don’t know who it is, but perhaps I have descended into the Trailer Trash who microwaves all her meals and spends the day watching old Lifetime movie reruns. If I only had a TV.

And my sisters are so kind, and generous. So I try to downplay gift giving, because I’m bad at it. And I’m broke. So when their birthdays come around, I have to try to be creative, which is not in my wheelhouse, and come up with things that you can’t put a value on.

So I mentioned warm socks and long underwear. Because my neighbor scared me when he asked whether we were leaving come winter. And when we said no, he laughed. He thought it was hilarious. I guess being the butt of the joke means you don’t always get the joke. Until he told me that it gets down to 20 below.

Wait. What? 20 below? Like below ZERO? I can’t even picture what that would look like. I’m thinking, when the dogs go out every day to pee, does that freeze too? Will my hair and eyelashes freeze and break off?

Will I be even more of a house root vegetable than I already am? Questions that deserve answers I’m quite sure. But answers I do not have. Check back in December.

My sisters don’t give me what I mention. Because they’re better than that. They read my texts and know me. So I get wonderful gifts that are so timely and appropriate, that I’m horribly embarrassed to send them homemade huckleberry jam and other delights that I can scratch together in a kitchen that a Lilliputian would have a hard time fitting in.

Low and behold, one box arrived at the post office. With the most glorious snow boots a girl could dream of. Covering essential parts, warm, luscious. I Immediately put them on and walked around, saying “SNOW? WHO’S AFRAID OF THE STINKING SNOW? NOT THIS MOUNTAIN MAMA!” I was wearing my fuzzy lipstick lounge pants, and it was 75 degrees outside, but you get the idea …

Do these boots make my feet look fat?

Then another gift arrived. Along the same theme – surviving the Montana winter. Another smart move. For what is one to do when the snow is crawling up the side of the home, your eyelashes freeze if you go outside, and the Direct TV dish, in all likelihood, will be covered in snow (once we get it) and I’m quite sure Brad will not tromp out so I can watch American Horror Story. I’m sure because he didn’t tromp out in Washington, and the snow was just a couple of inches.

So the answer, of course, is to entertain thyself. And my sister gave me the perfect solution to get me through the trying times …

I think I’m going to need more books …

By the time the first snow falls, Brad promises that we will be “dried in.” I will have a larger kitchen, I’ll have a wood burning stove, there will be a pot of beans, or soup, or stew on said stove, and I will be well equipped for the freezing temps – book in one hand, boots on my feet, armed with an attitude that will astonish the snowbird neighbor who heads to Arizona come Thanksgiving.

I can do this. I think. I mean, it’s snow. How bad can that be?

The Point System

“You have to do something with all that milk.” That’s what I heard first thing this morning when my husband, Brad, opened the refrigerator door. That’s what I heard before I drank my first cup of coffee, brushed my teeth or even looked in the mirror. Although recently the mirror has not been kind so I’ve skipped that early morning ritual.

To his credit, we DID have a ton of goat milk in the refrigerator. I count 5 gallons of milk in the fridge, and packs of milk in the freezer to make 2600 bars of goat’s milk soap.

“We have too much because YOU are not doing anything with them.” And, before coffee, at times like this, I want to open a gallon and pour it over his head. Again, no coffee, plus reprimands, makes me have serial killer eyes. Unfortunately, the crazy eye look seems to go right over his head. Otherwise, why would he keep asking me questions? Especially when I have a pot of hot coffee in my hands?

So, I’ve decided to allocate points. Based on what we do, and whether we like it.

We have this agreement, Brad and I. He mainly tackles the outside jobs. The stuff I find either taxing or repulsive. I handle the inside jobs, INCLUDING the jobs that I find both taxing and repulsive. He cleans poop outside – all brands and all sizes – goat, rabbit, chicken – and I handle the poop inside – 3 bathrooms, 2 that are used by Air BnB guests and seem to be cleaned almost every other day at times. Neither of us enjoy these jobs. So it’s a wash. HAHA. Yes, literally.

He spends a lot of time on his riding lawnmower/tractor. I know he mows the lawn, but what else he does on his John Deere, I can’t imagine. I know he moves dirt, moves poop, moves compost. He rides it to the neighbors to ostensibly talk about farm stuff.

And please don’t write and tell me this isn’t a John Deere. I know it’s not a John Deere. Reluctant Farmgirl, remember? This is the only picture I have of him on a tractor, and it was his first one. Stop bugging me about it.

DSC_0426

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. He loves to ride the lawnmower, I enjoy cooking, but cleaning? Not so much. So I get one point. Or a half. I do get annoyed that we eat three meals a day. Seems like every time I clean the kitchen, it’s close to time to make yet another meal. When we both worked, breakfast was on the go, lunch was at work, and all I had to really think about was dinner. Now it’s a constant aggravation to think of something for 3 meals a day. With the Air Bnb, I’m also planning guest meals and executing with my usual charm and grace. So yeah, I’ll take the full point on that.

Brad feeds the worms in the worm bin, and distributes his “worm tea” to the different compost areas. Which I find repulsive. But he doesn’t so he doesn’t get the point. I wash the laundry for us and for the guests. I don’t like doing this, so I’ll take the point.

Brad makes stuff. He loves woodworking. I make soap. I love making soap. It’s a win-win for both of us.  However, he does have to help me with a few steps, but he doesn’t hate it so I won’t even mention that. And my soaps are legendary …

He walks the fences and mends when needed. He hates walking the fences. That’s an assumption on my part because Loose Luna, one of our does, seems to always find herself in the boy’s pen. She was in the boys’ field twice this week, prancing around and switching her little tail in front of our buck, Mojo. She really is the slut of the neighborhood. Me, I hate dusting which, with two Air Bnb Rooms, I do every couple of days. And our house is almost 3,000 square feet, so there’s a lot to hate. Another wash.

Brad’s major hate is trimming the goat hooves. And he’s also not fond of going down to milk the goats every morning and evening. He has this nice little milking machine, which I would gladly do, but it needs electricity to work. The goat barn is a quarter mile from the house, so it requires a generator for power. And if my life depended upon it, I could not start that pull start generator. Seriously. If I was down at the barn, solo, and needed power to save myself, I would just sit down and cry. I don’t have the upper body strength or stamina to pull that cord hard enough to make it start. I would be more capable of ripping my own arm out and beating myself with it, than starting that generator. So, if he would replace it with one that maybe starts with a button, I would happily go down and do the milking. He gets the point for that one, but with transgressions.

I do all the marketing, writing, reservations, sales for the farm. I love it. It’s what I am trained to do and what I’ve done my whole life. He readies the garden, I help with the planting and harvesting. And I do the cooking and freezing of stuff, and he does the canning. Mainly because I am scared to death that I’m going to kill someone if left to my own devises. I’ll do it but we both agree I shouldn’t handle a pressure cooker, at least not unsupervised.

So, when he says to me that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing with the goat milk, which means making more cheese that we could possibly eat, I think to myself, OK. We have enough milk stored up for the next zombie apocalypse. Why don’t we just let the two does dry up? Give them a break. If Loose Luna scored two days ago, in 5 months we’ll be knee deep in milk all over again. That makes sense, right?

Well, I’m sitting here complaining to y’all because in the fridge is the makings of cheese. I’m supposed to be making cheese. I’m supposed to be doing this while Brad is picking up a third doe we purchased last month with the profit from selling the 3 babies that were born in February. Which means if all three does get lucky,  we will have 6 babies to bottle feed, and 3 does to milk and even more milk in the fridge and freezer. If I make cheese out of 5 gallons of milk, and we eat that cheese, my butt will grow so big it will be a gravity defying feat just to stand up.

And if I make the easy cheese – ricotta – then I’ll be tasked with making homemade raviolis. Which are the bomb (do they still say that?). But are a half day’s worth of work. So I’d make them for lunch and hope that Brad eats enough so he doesn’t want dinner. Which, by the way, never happens. He says “oh, I won’t need dinner” and I think “thank God. I don’t have to cook.” But then 7 o’clock rolls around and he says “were you thinking of anything for dinner?”

And you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking yes. I’m thinking yes, I do have an idea for dinner. Why don’t you take a big glass, fill it with fresh goat’s milk, and get back to me in the morning.DSC_0486

Permaculture … on steroids

When my daughter’s fiancé visited us several years back, he made the proclamation … “what you have here, is permaculture.” Being city girl turned reluctant farmgirl,  I had to Google it to see what exactly it was. Wasn’t sure if he was praising our efforts, or swearing at us.

Turns out, yes, we are a family of permaculturists.  When I take on things, I tend to do it with a passion. Brad, disagrees. He says it’s not passion, it’s a freakish obsession to go overboard. With everything. We started with 10 chickens and now have 80. Two goats became six. Although, in my defense, two pigs became freezer fodder, so there is that. And we added six ducks, but that was the neighbor’s fault. Entirely. She bought the ducklings for us.

So it stands to reason that after Jomar  introduced me to a new concept that I would embrace it wholeheartedly. And really, we are quite magnificent when it comes to creating as little, if not zero, excess waste as humanly possible.

Walk with me, if you will, as I take you through our moderately messy, incredibly efficient, immorally time consuming and slightly perfect piece of recycling nirvana.

A bit of a warning. As I said, I get passionate about things. It started with mild composting. But I tend to have a charming neurosis (small, tiny, miniscule, not-getting-in-the-way-of everyday-living neurosis) that drives me to excel at things and be “one of the best.” Except sports. Not happening. Never. I mean, I am the best “walk and talk for 3 miles every couple of days” person I know. But that’s it.

So … the tour begins in my kitchen which is the heart, and start, of the permaculture process. Under my sink is a big stainless steel bowl which is used for collecting bits and pieces – anything from the sink drain catcher thing, anything that hens or goats or roosters shouldn’t eat. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so anything caught in the strainer goes into the bowl. Once that’s filled, it goes down to the compost pile and becomes rich earth. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, are collected by Brad and, together with newspaper, gets fed to his worms. I don’t go there. Ever. It’s not even in the same country as my wheelhouse.

I also have 2 Tupperware bins that sit on my counter. One is for the meat birds, the other for the active laying hens. Different things go into different bins. For the layers, they get pretty much anything with the exception of onions and garlic. As you can see, they like it. They like everything.

DSC_0045

The second Tupperware is for the meat birds. I’m more picky about that. They don’t get things like cabbage, Brussel sprouts or any strong flavored veggies. They get more mildly flavored treats – apple bits, carrot tops, bread crumbs, leftover oatmeal, mild flavored veggies. We sell both eggs and the meat birds, so we are careful about what might end up flavoring both. Well, I’m careful, Brad not so much. Which is why I’m in charge. And why our meat birds rock.

cornish2

If the eggs we collect happen to be cracked, that gets cooked up for the dogs. Egg shells get collected in a bowl and when I have enough, I toss them in the oven to toast them a bit, crumble them and put them in the hens food. It’s a good source of calcium and helps strengthen their egg shells.

Meat, fish, etc  gets divied up between the dogs and chickens. Yes, oddly enough, chickens eat meat. Chickens are not vegetarians. Getting eggs in the store from chickens who are “only fed vegetarian” is stupid. Chickens scratch in the ground for worms and slugs and eat insects. So don’t waste your money. Goats, however, are strictly vegetarian. Go figure.

And now we come to bones. Brad and I went to a naturopath, who prescribed we both drink bone broth. And she explained that it was what Vietnamese Pho was based on. Not able to find any bone broth in our local stores, I did what I do – I researched. Now I’m a bone broth pro. bone-brothThe best bone broth is found at my house. Seriously.  My freezer holds several gallon ziplock freezer bags. In these bags are leftover vegetables – the ends of the onions, the skins, the tops of celery, the stems of cilantro. Anything I don’t use or feed the chickens, I put in there. The other bag holds bones. With the exception of fish bones, every single bone in every single piece of meat I cook is in this bag. When you come for dinner at my house, you won’t be given a chicken thigh or leg to munch on. I’ll be cutting the meat off the bone for you, just like your mamma used to do.

When the bag is full enough, I toss all the bones and veggies in my crock pot. I cook it for at least 2 days, with some bay leaves, kosher salt, some whole spices (whatever I have on hand – peppercorns, fennel seeds, whatever herbs are in the garden or in the freezer). The bones turn very soft during this time, and turns the water into a flavorful broth that I bottle and freeze and use for a soup base, for cooking rice, for flavoring sauces. I always have the shelves in my stand-alone freezer full of bone broth. AND – after the bones are all cooked down and mushy, those go into the compost pile as well.

By the way, the reason I wrote out the bone broth recipe is, for some ungodly reason, Brad seems to think I could be the next Pioneer Woman. He insists I write down everything I cook (mostly because I can’t remember what I did so that I could recreate the meal again). Then he thinks my blog can turn into a blog not only about composting or permaculture, but about recipes, someone will “discover me”, we’ll be rich and not have to worry about our retirement. HAHAHAHA.No.

We collect slugs in the garden and bring them down to the duck pond. Veggie leftovers from the plantation get tossed into the goat’s pen. The big sunflowers feed the wild jays, swallows, yellow finches. And, if you want a goat to follow you till the ends of the earth, you carry a handful in your pocket and dole them out. You’ll have a friend for life.sassy

Some things are not good for animals – like potato skins. You’d think I’d just toss them, but I’m no longer a “tosser.” I cook the potato peelings for the chickens. I cook up raw chicken skins for the dogs. .

The kitchen is obviously the most interesting and vital part of the composting/recycling process. Brad does the other stuff. Leaf mulching and chopping  and burning and spreading ashes. It’s not as cool as a slimy bowl of gummy veggies under my sink, or delicately sautéed potato peels. So I won’t go into graphic detail. But I do invite you up to our farm and dare you to find one scrap that isn’t used for some purpose. Even the goat and chicken poop is meticulously collected. Nothing like a steaming pile of … well, you get the idea.

It’s a circle of life, my friends, a beautiful little circle of life.

imag1540

 

 

I’m SUCH a Nerd!

Wandering around the coop, my husband said to me … “it’s about time these damn chickens start laying some eggs and earn their keep. Otherwise, they are going to find their way onto the barbecue grill!”

I thought this was quite insensitive. I mean, what was HE doing at 4 months old? Blowing spit bubbles and pooping himself. “Well you know they are probably nervous and stressed. They see you stomping around threatening to turn them into tomorrow’s special, and it makes them anxious. And besides, my chickens are my entertainment. I pick them up and pet them and watch as they clap their little wings when I feed them pasta salad.”

It’s true. When he told me that all 20 chickens would probably not produce eggs all the time, and some would have to become stew or chicken stock, I understood. “This is a farm – it’s not a chicken retirement home.” I know the circle of life. I like Elton John and all, but he MUST also understand that there were one or two chickens that would live with us until their last feather dropped. And those were the two chickens who would automatically lay down by my feet waiting to be pet, picked up and loved. Who would climb on my back when I bent over.

Brad agreed – and went to get the tags so we could sort out which ones would live out their entire lives with us here at Reluctant Farm.

But a funny thing happened between that discussion and the day when we went to get the leg tags. I walked into the chicken run, and the chickens dropped at my feet. Not just my two little black and white barred rocks, but some whites, some Rhode Island Reds, and two more barred rocks. It was like they were all overcome with the vapors. And that’s when I realized … Chickens KNOW. They are spiritually, emotionally and soulfully connected to Mother Earth. Chickens know things we will never be able to grasp. And that’s when I said realized – we WILL become the first ever chook retirement home.

After this assurance to my girls, a few weeks later we did our normal routine of checking in the nest boxes. Starting at one end, counting – nope, nope, nope, nope … then all of a sudden – the skies opened and a golden egg appeared – not from a goose, but from my favorite barred rock chicken!

I swear, you would have thought Ed McMahon himself rose from the grave and knocked on my front porch with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes check for $1 million dollars. In fact, if he was on my doorstep I would have run him over looking for my camera to take a picture of our very first egg.

I think I took more pictures of that first egg than I took when my first baby was born. I had to get it from different angles …

Cupped in my hand to make it look bigger …

IMAG0882

In my Indian woven basket as an art piece …

IMAG0883

Nestled in a kitchen towel for effect …

IMAG0884

We were so excited we immediately scrambled it up for breakfast and shared one tiny egg between us.

When we’d run down every day to the coop to see if we have any other little gems waiting for us, there would be anywhere from 3-5 eggs daily. It’s the miracle of life!

The chickens were obviously not as moved about the whole experience as I am. Most of the time they seem a bit irritated that I keep raising the lids on the next boxes. They look at me and I’m sure they’re thinking … “hey, do you mind? I’m doing my business here? Can’t a hen get herself some privacy?”

IMAG0928

I kinda felt like I had caught someone in a compromising position in an outhouse. I’d say “oh, sorry” and back away.

So I skipped to my lou yesterday, with my egg basket, only to find SEVEN eggs. Seven. It was a new record! But now I have this …

IMAG0948

Yep, 20 eggs. And this is AFTER I gave a dozen to the neighbor. And BEFORE I go down to the coop this morning.

Now every morning Brad asks me “do you want me to make some eggs for breakfast?” And after omelets, scrambled eggs and three quiches, I’m a big egged-out.

I’m thinking of making a couple of angel food cakes. Maybe some soufflés. Lemon curd? Or maybe I’ll just leave a dozen on various doorstep and run away. Like a farm girl version of Kris Kringle.

With the eggs, the copious amount of swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumbers that are sitting on my kitchen counter, awaiting culinary creativity I just can’t seem to muster, I think I will, perhaps, drive to the city, see a movie, preferably a double feature, eat Baby Ruth and popcorn. Then when I come back it may all be a hazy memory.

Or a recurring nightmare, like the one where I can never find my house, or am sitting in my 8th grade classroom naked. Either way, there is no escaping Reluctant Farm.

Put that candle someplace else!

Yes, I had another birthday.

Because I live a lot of the time in my head, I tend to have random thoughts that make perfect sense to me, but sound like gibberish to some less enlightened individuals who don’t share my superior intellect.

But I was thinking, you know, birthdays are really kind of a strange ritual. I mean, someone says “oh, it’s your birthday today! Happy Birthday.” And you are congratulated for what? For being born 35 years ago on the same day. So, Ok, it’s not 35 years, but we’re dealing with hypotheticals here.

But the point is, we are being lauded for a process that we had absolutely nothing to do with. When in actuality, it should be our mothers who are congratulated for their part in our birth process. I mean, really, did any of us “ask to be born?” No. And by the way, I never, ever said those words to my parents. Friends did – when they’d get in trouble, they’d yell “Well, I never asked to be born.” I never said it because I was afraid my parents would then say “OK, we can fix that.” I wasn’t the most charming child. I had my reasons.

I don’t care for a lot of pomp and circumstance. The whole candle blowing, singing, having a restaurant stop in mid air and wish you a happy day? No thanks. I hate it. I don’t know how to respond. “Thank you, I did it all by myself”?

This is something that I thought was strange for a long time. I’ve looked at my birthday photos, and most of the time I either look bossy (because everyone MUST do things the right way – which is obviously my way) or slightly peeved.

10982154_10204906592878295_7869912421963061197_o

Yes, I’m at the head of the table, and I am annoyed. First I’m wearing a stupid hat, and even at 5 I hated hats. Second, because there are an overabundance of boys at the table, and third, it means that I have to share MY cake. Even then I thought birthday parties were odd.

This year, I wanted it on the lowdown. My husband has known me since 7th grade. We’ve been married for 28 years. So he KNOWS me. But he also thinks he can “fix” me.

For my birthday, I wanted nothing more than to be swept out of the house, and to a “nice corner table for two” at a restaurant where the napkins were cloth, the plates were not paper, the wine came out of a bottle with a cork, the food artfully presented and appealing to all the senses, and there would be cake. Discreetly dropped off at my table.

Because, while I hate the pomp and circumstance, I love me some cake. Not a cake lit up like the Forth of July, with Crisco frosting. The kind that coats the top of your mouth for the next millennium with sprinkles that chip your molars and cake that dries your mouth until you yell “MORE WINE PLEASE”.

white cake

But maybe a classic dark chocolate cake with a delicate mousse filling drizzled with raspberry coulis. Yeah, I’d eat that all day.

cake

And if you threw in a coupon for a massage, I would be every so grateful …

massage

But this is a birthday for City Susan. City Susan is no longer. She may live, forever, in my heart, but this year was my first birthday as the Reluctant Farm Girl. And the Reluctant Farm Girl has boots in the garage that have hay and chicken poop on the bottoms, shirts stained with blueberries, and a diamond ring that sits in a safe, not on her finger.

“I have a confession to make” said Brad, 2 days before my birthday. “I invited the neighbors over for a barbecue on your birthday.”

A barbecue.

There are 5 reasons I like barbecue:

1. It’s cooked outside so there are no pots for me to clean

2. It’s cooked outside so in the summer it doesn’t heat up the house

3. It’s cooked by someone else because I can’t barbecue

4. Most fish tastes better grilled, and I love fish

5. I can’t think of another damn reason I like barbecue because, in reality, I’m not a fan of the “Q.” Because it mainly consists of hamburgers and hot dogs, or maybe a charred piece of chicken. Not really elevated cuisine, especially on one’s birthday.

bbq

While I wasn’t over the moon about my husband’s birthday plans for him, I remained mute. Mainly because, this year in January, I totally forgot his birthday. I mean, zip. In my defense, we were in Texas, getting ready to do a big promotion to a large travel agency, and I didn’t sleep well in the hotel the night before, and was extremely nervous about said presentation. So I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of having to eat burnt food for my birthday. In my backyard. With paper plates. And plastic cups. And a cooler full of Bud Light, which I don’t drink.  Or having to vacuum the house and clean the kitchen before the neighbors came.

And, by the way, several years before Brad completely forgot my birthday. So while it doesn’t excuse my lack of manners, it does even the score, don’t you think?

So my birthday came, I put on make up and a colorful summer dress, all the while thinking that I SO deserved better. I deserved a pedicure and a night on the town. In a town that had Michelin rated restaurants. Or at least Zagat rated.

The “cue” was smoking, Brad was cooking, and the neighbors showed up. Bearing cards saying that I was the best neighbor ever, bearing gifts from the country – a “nectar plant” to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, pounds of salmon from their recent trip to Alaska, fresh frozen halibut, a pot of homemade beans, and wide as a country mile smiles.

And, yeah. I liked it. I want to kick myself, but I liked it. I liked the beans, the bush, the fish, and the sense of community. I liked knowing that my neighbors care. I like actually knowing my neighbors. And, in the long run, that’s what life is all about. Being with people who make you feel loved and who make you glad you live where you live, and who accept you, chicken poop on your shoes and all.

I got an ice cream cake. With an oreo crust. And I ate it for breakfast. Because it was my birthday. And because I could.

And next year … I want that damn massage!

But … can she cook?

I’m a bit of an oddity for my generation, in that I never learned to cook at my mother’s knee. I never baked cookies with her at Christmas, nor kneaded bread, nor shelled peas, nor shucked corn. There was no shucking in the Bronx. My mother was a career woman until the fateful day I was hanging in the alley with the homeboys at age 5, and we all decided to climb atop a lion’s head that graced the entrance to a building.

I followed, of course, because that’s what I did. I may have been a natural born leader at one point, but as a bright child soon figured out that being a leader only got me in trouble. Like the time that the boys were bugging me as I was walking up the stairs to our brownstone. I decided to pull down my pants and stick out my bare butt to scare them off. In retrospect, probably not my finest moment, but at 5, it seemed like a good idea. Of course, as I grew I came to realize that showing body parts was not the smartest way to ward off the opposite sex. But that’s a whole other story.

Anyway, I climbed up the lion and, to much taunting, jumped like everyone else. But everyone else was a boy. Wearing dungarees. I was a girl. And my Momma raised me to wear little plaid short skirts with anklets and patent leather shoes. I hit a rock, my leg split open and the next day my mother put in her notice. I was obviously no longer to be trusted in the alleys of New York.

bf7ceb4ae9ac031416818f78b4eab634

Ok, so it wasn’t actually this same lion, but damn near close.

For some reason, I was not embraced to join my mother’s mysterious world in the kitchen. Probably because knives were involved and I was an unknown. I was categorized as “unpredictable.” In a scary, horror movie kind of way. My mother saw the movie “Bad Seed” and never looked at me the same way. So I was never around matches, nor anything sharp. I don’t think I was allowed to cut my own food until I was 16.

At 15 I was finally invited to help Mom. She had 3 kids under the age 5, so it was with resignation that she said I should make dinner once a month. I did learn to make two dishes so I would rotate between tuna noodle casserole with potato chips on top, and hamburger casserole with Fritos on top. My one and only seasoning, for years, would be Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.

When I moved out of my parents home, I learned how to warm up refried beans and put them into prefab corn taco shells. I learned to treat myself to premade shrimp cocktail followed by a filet mignon. I had a roommate who was a cocktail waitress, and she taught me the ins and outs of eating during happy hour – buy a drink, then load up on the free food.

My first husband and I lived on Taco Bell, which was right next to our apartment. I did branch out and channeled my inner Nona – and finally created 2 signature dishes – my killer lasagna and meatballs to die for. So – Taco Bell – Lasagna – Meatballs.

My mother, most likely out of guilt, gave me her prized copy of the “I Hate to Cook Book.” I still have it, with her quirky handwritten comments next to each recipe. It was there that I learned I could put a piece of meat in aluminum foil, add Lipton onion soup mix on top, wrap it up, baked it in the oven, throw in a cut potato an hour before it was done, and I had dinner.

I learned how to put chicken on top of raw rice, with some mushrooms and a can of soup, bake it and add a salad. Dinner. I could do stew (throw it all together with canned tomatoes and bake) and chili (5 ingredients – 1 of each – throw it together and bake). Yeah, there’s a theme going – canned shit, baked, done. But they had one recipe each day for 30 days, and I was a master of all of them. The marriage lasted 5 years. I guess he got tired of once a month meatloaf.

It was when I met my husband Brad that I realized I had to up my game. One day he came over to my apartment for a date, and instead announced that it would be “fun” to bake bread.

“Bake bread? Like really bake bread? Or get the frozen loaf from Pillsbury and thaw it out and bake it?”

No, he meant he wanted to bake bread. With yeast and stuff. One thing I’m leery of is yeast. I mean, it’s alive, right? I don’t trust it. It’s way too touchy. Too hot, it dies. Too cold, it never lives. Who wants that kind of pressure? I also don’t do anything with thermometers or cook to a hard ball or soft ball stage. I don’t get it, and probably never will.

So – he baked bread. I watched.  We each ate a slice. He left, and I ate the rest.

09chipmunk

Brad had some mad skills. I know we each have our wheelhouse, and there are things he knows, and can do, that I can’t. And vice versa. There are areas in which I excel, where he doesn’t. And maybe by the end of this blog I’ll think of one. But for now you’ll just have to trust me.

So for the first years he would barbecue, I would sit inside and drink red wine, and when he was almost done I’d quickly open a bagged salad and mix up some Seven Seas zesty Italian dressing. It seemed to work. My greatest skill was knowing how to order. It really is a skill you know. You can take me to any restaurant, anywhere on the globe and I can find something good to eat. Actually, it’s a gift. Nay, it’s an art.

It’s been a process, but now I can say I’m an accomplished cook. I’m not ready for the “Chopped” kitchen just yet, but maybe soon.  It took a while, but since I was never really fond of barbecue, I thought I better pull up my pants and tackle this task.

That day happened years ago when I was ready to leave for a week on travel. My daughter Melanie came to me and begged  “Please Mom don’t leave us alone with Dad. All we will eat is grilled sausages and rice.” So I knew that my days with a glass of wine in the living room were coming to an end. Now I can actually make shit without a recipe. And most of the time, it’s terrific. And most of the time, I don’t remember what I did, so I can never replicate it. But I learned that if anyone is smart and knows how to read, they can essentially cook.

I still can’t bake worth shit. Yesterday I tried to bake a pie shell. Ok, it was a Pillsbury pie shell, but nonetheless, I made the filling – a quiche with chard from our garden. I had to “blind bake” the pie shell. It said something about putting beans in the shell so that it wouldn’t puff up. So I put beans in the shell, and put it in the oven to bake. NOWHERE did it say I had to put waxed paper or foil on the shell before I put the beans in. So the pie crust had dried pinto beans baked in. And picking those bastards out was not my favorite way to spend my afternoon.

So – my baking isn’t legendary, but I can make you a risotto that, when you take your first bite, I swear you will hear the angels sing. But, if you really want, I can also pull out a bag of Fritos and make you a nice casserole …

chili-frito-pie-0013