Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Four Leaf Clover

I am one of those people who find 4 leaf clovers. I can walk along a path, spot a patch of clover, and there will be the anomalous oddball calling out to me. I'm not sure why they matter to me so much; I've always looked for them, and I have a hard time passing by a clover patch without pausing to look. My day looks a little bit brighter, my step a little peppier when I find one.
Lately I have taken to keeping one on my window sill in an old bottle I found on 39th St. in Bellingham a long time ago. Embossed on the front is "My Mother's Salad Dressing", from Chicago, Ill. It's a beautiful artifact, and I found both a large and small one in the little refuse pile I unearthed while on my backhoe digging a ditch. It was said that a "goat woman" lived on the property during the 1930s, and this was all that remained of her life there. She must have loved the salad dressing, as there were scores of bottles there, but most were ruined by the backhoe before I realized what I'd found. I often think of her when I look at the clover, and what we leave behind, and what she might have left behind coming to Fairhaven and living with goats. Now that I have goats, I realize that they can be good companions! But what was in the salad dressing that she ordered it from Chicago instead of making it herself? Maybe it was a vestige of the life she lived in earlier days, a celebratory splash of dressing as she sat to eat her greens.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Birds Sing

"The birds sing, at the break of day. Start again, I heard them say. Don't dwell on what has passed away, or what is yet to be....."  The words are from Leonard Cohen's Anthem, and as I awaken early, and listen to the robins sing in a spring dawn, I am reminded of waking up as a 6 year old on a little suburban Everett farm. Two and a half acres of amazing productivity. I can hear the very same melodious, cavorting, sweet and intricate songs as I lay in bed, eagerly wondering what awaited me that morning. We had a cow, Mildred, and a boxer, Spike, and 10 rows of raspberries to weed. We had 4 cherry trees, 3 apple trees, 2 pear trees, and a blackberry patch that was both fearful and wonderful.
But I also had a special friend, a neighbor whose house was next to ours, accessed by a winding path through salmonberry and snowberry bushes. Her name was Dora Studeman, and when I met her she must have been in her late 60s. Her husband of many years had recently died, and she must have been at such a loss, since he had been wheelchair bound for many years before his death, and she had no other family. We were kindred spirits from the start. I, the middle child of 6, was full of wonder and excitement, and so was Mrs Studeman. She showed me how to garden, how to eat what we had grown, and it is to her that I owe the life on Lummi Island that I now inhabit. Perhaps unconsiously, I have been recreating the garden that she had, and the life as well. I remember her giant gooseberry bush, the glorious tomatoes, the berries and the fruits, and as I watch my cherry trees bud, and my red currants and my gooseberries, I think of her, with her scratchy white haired voice full of kindness and love. And I think of my 6 year old granddaughter, Madeleine, and hope that I can be a beacon for those same instincts in her.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Roasted Chicken

These hens are my 40 layers, all supervised by a 12 lb Sulmthaler rooster named Dante by Susan  Bennerstrom. We all thought that it was a hen when she named it; we didn't know what to expect from the 11 chicks we hatched from 20 eggs we bought from Arizona. Dante was gray as a youth, and since we couldn't believe we only had 3 hens out of 11 chicks, we assumed the grey ones were hens too. Turns out there are Black Sulmthalers and Grey Sulmthalers, and we did surely have 8 males and only 3 females. Not a great start to the Sulmthaler Club: In Search of the Perfect Roasted Chicken.
I first heard of these Austrian birds from an Austrian farm couple who came to the US to help introduce Mangalitsa pigs to this country. Ron Zimmerman from the Herb Farm brought them to Woodinville to teach a butcher class using a total of 5 Mangalitsas imported from Hungary by Heath Putnam and raised by Ron. PigStock 2006! This master butcher, Christophe Wisner and his wife Isabel, showed a group of us over 3 days how to "seam" butcher a hog, using only a knife and no saw. It was an amazing workshop. Anyway, after the class the Wisners came up to Lummi Island to stay with me at the Willows Inn and visit Nettles Farm, as I had a Mangalitsa and I was anxious to hear their advice on how I was raising it. It was then that they casually mentioned that they also raised Sulmthaler chickens, a rare bird that they feared might go extinct, since it took nearly a year to mature, but dressed out at 6 lbs. From that moment I could imagine the incredible eating experience such a bird must offer. Imagine, a year old and 6 lbs! Since the best birds I had had up until then were only 14 weeks old, and older means more flavor, my fantasies soared.
It was years later when my friend Ed Gulyas texted that he had found some Sulmthaler eggs for sale, but they were $25 each. We took a collection among our chicken loving friends, and everyone put up $100 to each receive, at the end of what might be 2 years, 2 wonderful, magnificent roasters. As I speak, there are 3 breeding pairs in separate chicken tractors, and 24 (make that 22- a renegade raven killed and ate 2 when I dared to let them out of their shelter) adolescents of varying age roaming one of the fields. It will be a year May 10 from the first hatch. We have eaten 4 rooster culls, at 9 months, and though they were only 4 lbs, they were tender and delicious, so I do believe we are onto something. And Dante? He is very happy, for not only does he have a harem of 40, but he is not destined for the pot. Suse made me promise.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Roasting Coffee

I have begun roasting my own coffee, not only for myself, but also for my guests. My friend Ed Gulyas turned me on to this; he's been doing it for a long time and I have had many wonderful and subtle coffees from his countertop Pavoni. It wasn't until I really began to inhabit Nettles Farm by myself that I slowed down enough to take the time to do it. I bought 20 lbs of green coffee from Sweet Maria's, an Oakland company that really knows and cares about the coffee they purchase and sell. It costs a little less than half the price of  roasted beans. Green coffee gets better as it ages, unlike roasted beans, and drinking a brew from freshly roasted coffee is truly a peak experience.
Ed gave me an old popcorn popper he had bought thinking he would go through one every few months, when in fact his first one is still going strong years into it. It is messy, as the beans go through their first "crack" and shed their outer covering as they roast. Also it creates a lot of smoke and smell, fairly strong smell. First I roasted under the hood of the FarmHouse Suite, and that worked really well, but there was clean-up involved. Now I have the popper and the cooling pans on a sheet pan outside on the deck. Ed is very picky about his roasting, and brings the beans just to their second crack, then immediately cools them down using a second popper with no heating element. I like a dark roast, not only for flavor, but also because there seems to be less caffeine in the brew. So I let the beans go through their second crack, until they are very dark and shiny from the oils released, then dump them into a bowl, where I cool them slowly by pouring them from bowl to bowl. Right now I am roasting Mocha Kadir, which is fruity and smooth.
I make my coffee with a Delonghi Magnifica, and automatic espresso maker that makes surprisingly good espresso. Starbuck's had a sale on them some years ago and I thought I would try it. It took awhile to get a good cup, but you can tweak it to make what you like.
For ease of use, I have fresh beans, a good grinder, and a French Press in each of the rooms. I am setting up the commercial single group Astoria that I have in the carport, so that guests can use it if they want. I can also teach guests how to make a good cup if they don't know how, which is fun if you have never used a commercial machine before.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

New Life at Nettles Farm

After what seems like a lifetime away, I am giving up on the life of a bon vivant, and find myself hard at work at Nettles Farm once again. I have come full circle since the spring of 1992, when I first began to develop the property, which was just trees, stumps, and, well, nettles. Then I dreamed of showing the world that this corner of the world could grow good tomatoes, that we could vote with our feet and stop complaining and just do something. Now, since the point has been well made, I am content with growing good tomatoes for my guests. Along with asparagus, raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, peas, salad greens, eggs, gooseberries, tree fruits, and exotic chickens, that is. My goal is to treat the guests in my two B&B rooms to a taste of Nettles Farm on Lummi Island. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to wake up to the good air, good water, quiet surroundings. Today I could hear the crash of breakers on the beach from the strong westerly winds as I went about my day. Earth and Sea. What a treasure!
For the past 12 years I neglected the farm in order to promote the Willows Inn, down the hill from me, but that is all behind me now, as told in Outside Magazine. I have the privilege of walking the farm, tending the fields and animals, and talking to guests every day now, and watching as the demands of each living thing growing at the farm change with the seasons. It is a chance to slow down, pay attention, and to give needed care without rushing that leads me to think that this could really be a fine retirement.
This month, guests coming to Nettles Farm can expect to find beautiful tender broccolini, salad greens, fresh eggs, rhubarb, spinach, asian greens, and lots of herbs, all free to be picked for dinner. The hope is to maintain a kitchen garden that guests can peruse before deciding what to cook for dinner.