Thanksgiving Leftovers

Today is the day after the “day of gluttonous feasting.” The day after – when dishes are done, leftovers are conveniently stored in the fridge so that if you happen to get hungry today, you can grab a turkey drumstick on your way to whatever Black Friday special you simply MUST HAVE.

So I thought I’d take time to offer some insight into a home cook’s Thanksgiving reflections.

  1. Timing:
    When you tell your guests that Thanksgiving will be ready at 4 p.m. that kinda means dinner will be ready at 4 p.m. If you show up at 5, and don’t alert us beforehand, you can come in and maybe get some dessert if you are lucky. If you show up at 2 and I’m in the kitchen cooking, I’m probably going to throw a hot sweet potato at you.

    kanye

  2. Dietary Restrictions:
    Here’s the thing. If I ask you “do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions I need to know about” what I really mean is “I don’t give a shit.” I DO want to know if you have a shellfish allergy and I’m serving shrimp on Thanksgiving, for some reason, so I don’t kill you. But that’s the extent of it. I don’t really care that you are “trying to eat vegetarian.” I make my Italian sausage cornbread stuffing. You don’t want the sausage, spit it out. Likewise if you are “putting your body into ketosis” that’s your problem. You don’t want the cornbread part of the stuffing? Spit it on the vegetarian’s plate and you can have her sausage.

    Back when we were kids, we got Thanksgiving dinner. Nobody asked us what we liked. We ate it. We gave thanks, damn it, even if we didn’t like the sweet potato casserole thing that Mom made. We were thankful that on Thanksgiving the napkins were big enough to hide that casserole underneath. Nobody cared if you were “cutting carbs” or “avoiding animal fats.” Do it on your own time. But don’t bore me with your laundry list of things you can and can’t eat. And please don’t ask me to “pull aside” something before adding whatever. What I will pull aside is a wooden spoon and chase you out of the kitchen.
    italian grandma

  3. Etiquette While Dining:
    Dialog and conversation is allowed. As long as the dialog and conversation mainly revolves around the food. Take note on this: the person who cooked the fabulous meal that sits in front of you, most likely started at 3 in the morning (yes, yes I did). And worked until 4 p.m. when the last bit of gravy is poured (and after a few glasses of chianti). So when you are tucking into my succulent turkey cooked in the Cordon Bleu technique, the sweet potatoes with meringue topping straight out of the most recent Cooking Light magazine, brussels with warm, whole grain mustard vinaigrette, or fresh cranberry orange relish; you must (and there are no exceptions) exclaim loudly with each bite “this is the most delicious and amazing food that has ever passed my lips.” You may then (and only then) continue with whatever conversational topic you choose, and if it’s political,  I have to agree with you. My house, my kitchen, my wooden spoons.
  4. Leftovers:
    There are none. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain shoving everything into the fridge. It’s a mirage. Sleight of hand. Because for a home cook who was cooking and prepping for 13 hours, leftovers are the artesian springs in the middle of the arid desert. Mecca. Because leftover means that, for at least the next 3 days, my husband won’t ask “what’s for dinner?” or even “what are we having for lunch?” My clever sister Jen even incorporated stuffing into scrambled eggs. Genius!

    Leftovers? I’m owed it, and if I see you abscond with as much as a turkey wing, I will run you down and tackle you in my front lawn.

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In Summary, I hope you all had a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, full of amazing food, tantalizing desserts, family, friends and joy. Ours was peaceful and quiet, just the big guy and me, and right now I’m looking forward to a turkey and stuffing sandwich. As well as a massage and foot rub and lots of chocolate. Which I won’t get, but I’ll settle for the sandwich.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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