Monday, November 16, 2009

My uncle can be an unusually thoughtful giver of gifts, and recently he gave me one of the best housewarming gifts imaginable. We moved in to our 1895 brick farmhouse on the first day spring, March 21, in 2008, and we have become comfortable with the routines of the farm, the bounty of our woods and gardens, and the possibilities inherent in the largish kitchen. So last Saturday I was surprised when Bill called and told me he had a housewarming gift for us.

We met at the indoor market at Lincoln Square in Urbana, and he gave us a mixed case of wines from Sunsinger, one of the local wine specialty stores. Each bottle is different, and the case represents many different grapes, wine-making styles, and countries. When he handed me the box, he suggested I look up each wine on the internet and find out what the suggested food pairings might be.

On Sunday, we had the first of the wine-inspired dinners. Ken chose a Portuguese red from the box, Tuella, made from Douro grapes. It is a medium-light red, sort of a heavy Beaujolais. The first course was a warm pear-zucchini soup accented with thyme and garnished with mint. I served a chenin blanc that I had on hand with this, although most opted for cider or beer. This soup would be nice served cold, and I'll keep it in mind for next year at pear/zucchini time.

The entree was Portuguese-style pork roast braised with wine and vegetables (featuring the man carrot--photos later), and the meat was quite tasty and tender. My comments: I prefer to brown a roast first rather than braise it blanc, and the sauce looked like squid ink, so I probably won't make this one again. Mom brought Caesar salad, which was delicious as always, and I made a pear upside down cake for dessert. Bill, Ernie, Mom, Neil, Ken, and I enjoyed a very convivial and pleasant evening.

Things to think about for next time: Ask Ken to choose the wine a week before the event so I have more time to plan the menu and to source all foods locally. We might expand the guest list, too. . . . Thank you, Bill!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fall is the season of letting go. Letting go of the garden that produced so prolifically for our table and larder, of the lambs that we struggled to save in the spring (they will be on the table soon), the grass that sustained the lambs and their mothers throughout the summer, the summer birds, and everything green in the landscape.

Fall is also the season during which we make our preparations for the winter that is to come. On these glorious Indian summer days, we are freezing and canning the last of the fruit and vegetables still in storage, cutting wood to feed the hungry wood-burning insert in the parlor, and procuring the last of the hay and straw that will provide warm bedding and feed for the sheep through the winter. The windows are caulked, the doors weatherstripped, and the basement is insulated.

Other mammals are making their preparations too. The squirrels have cached black walnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts in so many places that they won't find them all before the seeds germinate into young trees next spring. The deer are fat, the fawns are weaned, and the does and bucks are busy creating a new crop of fawns. The coyote and fox children are hunting and howling and barking like adults, although still with their parents.

Many of the summer birds have migrated, and those left behind are returning to our feeders as the abundance of summer wanes. The young hawks are hunting on their own, the young owls are hooting and calling "Who-cooks-for-you?" instead of screeching in their owlet voices.

I am in a similar season in my life. Letting go of many things, voluntarily and involuntarily, in preparation for the quiet activities of winter that bring forth the promise of spring and abundance of summer. My big worries grow small when I think about the cycle of which I am privileged to be a part and my responsibilities as steward to my self, my family, and the small holding that is Seven Sisters Farm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The last week has provided us with beautiful weather for outside work. We've put a cord of wood in the shed, built a crib to hold it, and rebuilt the fence for the chicken yard (half of it was pulled out to make way for the drainfield).

The chickens are noisy, busy, happy, and really like their freedom, so I'm leaving the gate open. I often find them on the slope leading down to the river helping themselves to whatever bugs they can find. Yesterday, though, I had to run downstairs and outside to shoo them off the road twice--they've discovered the corn across the road in the neighbor's field. They also like to scratch in the beds near the house. They are laying 10 or 11 eggs per day, and I haven't found any outside the coop. The hens always manage to go back and lay them in the nesting boxes in the chicken chateau.

We still have 6 guineas, and they are now roosting in the tree just outside the chicken yard. The chickens, and especially the rooster, chase them away from the food. They are very handsome birds--now that they are maturing, their "bibs" are a lovely lavendar color when the sun shines on them.

Thanksgiving plans are going forward, and it promises to be a little lonesome--Alex and Neil will be in Wyoming with their grandfather. Mom will be in town, as will brother Jim and perhaps Bill and Ernie. I believe the boys will be home for Christmas, so we have that to look forward to. Seamus will be overjoyed--I'm a very poor substitute for his "boy."

Since the change from daylight savings, I've been able to spin in the evenings. My inventory is increasing gradually, and I hope to have enough yarn to justify renting a booth at Lincoln Square on one of the Saturdays before Christmas. I hope to dye some of the white in time to sell before Christmas as well. The holiday season is almost upon us!