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Posts Tagged ‘farm life’

My time in Manitoba was quickly coming to an end. I wanted to spend some time working with the animals again before I left and the opportunity afforded itself on my eighth day on the farm. Ray, once again my information highway, said the new calves needed to have ear tags. Interested I asked if I could tag along. (sorry) Ear tags help the farmers identify the gender of the calves as well as track its parentage. If you have a bumper crop of babies each looking much like the next, you will need to have some way to tell which calf belongs to which mother. The mothers, I was told, instinctively will be protective of their offspring. The objective is to perform this task with the least amount of stress to both parties. A calf cage or crate was to be taken out to the field. This will separate the baby from it’s mother temporarily during the procedure while allowing the mother to remain close by and get less agitated. The cow may get testy during this time I was warned, so I was not to get too close to her hind quarters or I might get kicked. Ray explained it is important the tagging be done properly or you risk infection, the tag could get ripped out, or bacteria could easily travel from one small creature to the next. Got it.

I got dressed in my knee boots this time before being prompted to. Mucking about in the cow pastures you are likely to step in a lot of, well, a lot of. Meeting the men by the barn as requested, the cage was already hitched to the back of the truck. Dobbin, the dapple gray was saddled and loosely tied to the gate. Bob J. and were to ride out in the truck with Ray following on Dobbin in case they needed to round up any strays. Coming to the first field we caravaned through the gate stopping just at the perimeter of the grazing herd. Bob J. said there should be five calves in this pasture, though we only counted four. Most likely the missing calf and mother were hidden beyond the tree line so we would have to look the stragglers once the other four had been tagged.  Helping them unload the contents of the bed of the truck I noticed an ominous looking tool reminding me of the eyelet setter I had at home in my sewing kit only much larger. This was used as a “punch” if you will that helps set the tag. Asking if it hurt, my answer was no. As a disclaimer, no calf has ever stepped up to the mike to confirm this to be true so I’m just going to have to take the farmer’s word for it.  Ray said it was similar to ear piercing in humans. Let me just insert here, had I seen that tool headed for my ear lobe I would have continued to wear clip on earrings. I’m just sayin.

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I got my ears pierced in my early twenties. My mother worked for a radiologist at the time we called Dr. Pat. Dr. Pat had mentioned he had pierced his daughter’s ears. Mother, knowing I was planning on having mine done at the mall asked if he would consider doing mine as well. Even at that age with two toddlers in tow my mother still worried I would get an infection and die. Losing my dad when he was twenty-five had a profound impact on her and by God she wasn’t going to lose me. Being an only child with an overly protective widowed mother can be both a blessing and curse. You get all the love and you get ALL THE LOVE. Sigh. My mother was a bit of a helicopter parent before the phrase was ever coined. I would happily have just gone to the jewelry store at the mall. To relieve her mind, I showed up at radiology for the appointment and was guided into an exam room for the procedure. Dr. Pat had a reputation for being a bit of a practical joker so he arrived fully gowned with gloves and mask on. On a tray he carried an enormous syringe. Fortunately they caught me before I fled out the door and explained it was a joke. While there he told me the story of his visit to Tijuana over the summer with several of his colleagues. They were on a sort of busman’s holiday down in the Baja Peninsula doing some pro bono work in a small clinic. After a rigorous couple of days with no A/C they decided to stop at a bar in Tijuana on the way home and enjoy a couple of cool ones. As the story went they washed the cervaza down with Tequila shots and everyone got el borracho (plastered). One of the locals in the bar, spotting an easy mark in the inebriated Dr. Pat sold him an enormous sow which they somehow loaded in the back of his station wagon and brought home to the wife. Story was she was less than elated to see both him and the pig. After some heated discussion and most likely in exchange for an expensive shopping trip for the wife the pig was allowed to stay. Fortunately, they lived in a lovely ranch style home in an exclusive area mostly dedicated to horse owners so it was zoned for livestock. When the tony ladies in the area were out walking their pedigree pooches, Dr. Pat would slip the custom made rhinestone collar on Gordita (always thought that was kind of a rude name) and walk her around the neighborhood as well. At one point I believe the neighbors actually got up a petition to have this behavior stopped as unseemly but apparently it isn’t illegal to walk swine in public. He and his wife got a divorce not long after that, not surprisingly as you might imagine. Last I heard he got custody of the pig.

One by one we rounded up the calves and their mothers. Let me preface by saying the calves do not just walk into the crate provided for them. It’s like putting Boo, the Queen of Cats, in her carrier to go to the vets. You don’t just say, “Boo please get in” and the cat aquiesses. Oh no. You hide the cage and sneak up on her while she’s sleeping. You gently carry her towards the open door of the crate being sure she does not actually see the crate or a hospital visit (for you not her) is in the offing. Once she realizes what you are up to you push and she resists, repeat for a half an hour until she’s finally inside. I was handed a bottle of adequate size to satisfy Baby Huey and told once the calf was secured to feed him or her while the procedure was being performed. Believe it or not I asked what was in the bottle. Even for a blonde that was a fairly dumb question. Milk, yes, you win the teddy bear.  Ray slipped a rope around mama’s neck who wasn’t looking happy, while Bob J. rounded up the little one and after a bit of maneuvering got it in the crate and the head stabilized. My part of the program was easy because I had the goods. The little one happily sucked on the bottle while Bob J. did what was needed to be done with not a lot of fanfare thankfully. I cannot stand to see any animal hurt including human animals.

For a brief time in my late twenties I was a dental assistant. Believe it or not I graduated top of my class (Particularly after the what’s in the bottle question. I know!). After graduating, I was placed in an orthodontist’s office as a chairside assistant. Working in a school environment was vastly different than working in the field itself. For one thing our “patient” in school was a dummy (no offense meant). He was an actual dummy we called Fred. Fred was life sized with a full set of perfect teeth and sat obediently in the chair. Never once did he bite me, scream, cry or bleed all over his bib. This, when working with actual live patients, was definitely not the case. Our patients were largely children as braces were the mainstay of our office. Doing xray’s on small mouths should come with hazard pay. I cannot count how many times I was bitten, or had to nearly go to the mat with a small patient to get a set of full mouth xrays completed. The dentist, though delighted with my two handed dentistry techniques was less than thrilled with the “faces” I was involuntarily making while he was working on patients. It seemed they were instilling fear rather than confidence in the person sitting in the chair. After a year I determined dental assisting was not the life path for me but that is another blog.

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After all four of the babies were tagged and released to their waiting mamas Ray was dispatched on horseback to round up the missing pair. When he returned Bob J. was educating me on the disposition of cows. Cows, like most species, each have their own personalities. For the most part he said they were not aggressive, however, that is not always the case and you should always be mindful around large animals and be respectful. Bulls were another matter entirely. For those of you who don’t know the answer to another dumb question, cows are female and bulls are male. Bulls can be very aggressive particularly around other bulls and especially when a cow is in heat. Thankfully there were no bulls on the property. How the calves came to be we didn’t get into but perhaps that falls under TMI.

After accounting for and tagging all the calves in two of the four pastoral areas, we broke for lunch. Chris outdid herself that day piling slices of her wonderful homemade bread with cured ham and lacy Swiss cheese. A large bowl of pasta salad was served family style in the middle of the table loaded with cherry tomatoes and spinach as well as a plate of sliced tomato, avocado, cucumber, and dill pickles. For dessert rhubard crisp with vanilla ice cream. Nap please. No nap was on the schedule so we dragged ourselves back out to the field and spent the rest of the day finishing the job we started. The cows were lovely all in all and not a one gave me as much as a dirty look.

Over dinner we discussed what I wanted to do with my last official day on the farm the following day before boarding a plane the day after that for California. It was decided the girls and I would go on a road trip with Bob J. at the wheel giving me an opportunity to see some of the surrounding countryside and allow Chris a much needed day of R&R.  My muscles were reacting to a hard day’s work as I blessedly sank into a tub of hot water before heading to bed. A bit of melancholy had begun to sneak into my being that night. One more day and then back to the reality of job, home, family and day to day life. Ah well, vacation or relocation doesn’t usually last forever.

 

 

 

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My seventh day in Northern Manitoba with my farm family was to be spent with Chris and the children. What a lovely day it was. On this particular day I was pulled into service in the kitchen, a job not unfamiliar to me. That evening there was to be a party in my honor which was such a lovely gesture on their part. Chris, as usual, would be doing the catering.  In her typical efficient way, she had printed menus for her guests. One was handed to me before we began dicing and chopping to provide a glimpse of what we were to be preparing. Breakfast that morning was self serve. Cold and hot cereal with a large bowl of fresh fruit and a plate with a variety of Chris’s homemade breads were set up on the dining room table for anyone to help themselves. Three golden crusted pies were lined up on the sideboard by the open dining room window to cool with strict instructions from the cook not to be touched.

Reading the menu I could see it would be a busy day. The cocktail hour was to begin at 5:00 out by the patio. Icy margaritas, wine and beer would be served for the adults enjoying a cocktail, and lemonade and sweet tea for those too young to imbibe or not inclined towards adult beverages. The appetizers, mostly comprised of ingredients from Chris’s impressive garden, were to include pastry wrapped asparagus with mustard sauce, sausage stuffed mushrooms, and deviled eggs as well as whatever contributions the guests provided. For someone who had spent little time in the city Chris had a very sophisticated palette. I noticed her reading material included magazines such such as Bon Appetit and Food and Wine, magazines I also enjoyed.

Eva and I were dispatched to Chris’s garden to gather some of the necessary ingredients. What an amazing touch the woman had with growing things.  Some of the vegetables in the massive garden area I had never actually seen on the vine before. I was fascinated to peer inside one enormous leaf only to find a cauliflower tucked under the wing of one fold. Up until then I had only seen cauliflowers in the vegetable section at the market. Carrying the baskets provided by our hostess for our harvest, Eva and I filled each to the brim with huge beefsteak tomatoes, green onions, sweet peppers, bouquets of basil, springs of mint, summer squash, cucumbers, and whatever else was on our list.

The main course was to be lamb. I was pleased no lambs were included in the cast of barnyard characters on the farm so it was not to be a family member served to the guests. Chris explained they got their lamb locally which didn’t surprise me. During my stay I had seen several large flocks grazing in the area. Though I had not mentioned it, coincidentally lamb happens to be one of my favorite meats. Growing up it was often the main course at my grandmother’s table alongside a bowl of mint jelly or creamy mint sauce. I assumed, since mint had been included on our shopping list, one or the other might be showing up that night as well. This was not to be lamb as I had ever prepared it before, however. Several whole lambs were going to cooked outdoors on a spit. Sounded wonderful. When I was living in Alabama I attended a huge backyard party where a whole cow was cooked on a spit. Watching that spit revolve all afternoon was too much for my delicate nature bringing out in me the urge to rescue the poor thing and run away with it. Brings to mind a quote from Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,”He took the Who’s feast, he took the Who pudding, he took the roast beast.” I vowed to avoid the spit area later in this day and simply enjoy my dinner.

Back in the kitchen the aromas were beginning to titillate my nostrils. The lamb was to be served alongside a cheesy, creamy zucchini gratin, crispy Greek lemon potatoes, several salad selections including a fully loaded garden salad and Chris’s simply amazing yeast rolls. Oh yummy for my tummy. I was put in charge of the Caprese Salad, creating several eye catching plates of ripe ruby red tomatoes alternated with slices of mozzarella cheese. This was finished off with fresh basil, and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If an organ could do a happy dance my stomach would have been in the middle of the macarena.

After a quick lunch, the girls were relieved of their aprons and left to play outside allowing Chris and I to to concentrate of the tasks at hand. There is something immensely satisfying to me in the preparation of food. Perhaps it’s the colors, or the aromas, or just the immense gratification you get when someone puts a bite of a dish you’ve prepared in their mouths and says “yum”.  A meal, to my mind, should be party for our senses. We eat with our eyes, our noses, our mouths and even our ears. There’s nothing as tantalizing as the sound of a good piece of meat when it hits a hot grill. Good food arranged artfully on a pretty plate is just appealing. No matter how mouth watering your food may be, if you just throw it on the plate and hand it to someone to eat, the full enjoyment of eating the meal is somehow diminished. As good as the meat and potatoes on the left might taste, a person might not feel as enthusiastic about taking a bite of it as they might what is displayed on the plate to the right.

The Caprese salad plated and wrapped, I asked where to store it. The kitchen had one large side by side refrigerator and every inch of storage space was already accounted for. Chris directed me to the sunroom. The sunroom was at the back of the house. It was a large shotgun style room with a bank of windows running along both ends and the yard side. During the warmer months Bob P. said the screens kept the air flowing in and the bugs out making it a lovely place to sit and let your bones dry out after a long day of work. On the inside wall there was a side by side refrigerator and though I had not seen it Ray had mentioned a large walk-in freezer in the barn where they stored butchered meats.

Setting the Caprese dishes on a shelf in the refrigerator I remembered Chris asking me to grab several jars of pickled green beans which she said I would find in the cupboard next to the fridge. Having been told the Mason jars were in alphabetical order (of course) I easily located the appropriate jars under the sign marked “G”. Like many farmer’s wives, Chris said she canned and preserved several times a year for off season months. Looking at the amount of jars, it seemed an excessive amount of food for five people but at harvest time it was my understanding there were plenty of mouths to feed, and if not I believe most preserved items enjoy a fairly long shelf life.

Mid afternoon with everything done and tucked away we separated to catch a shower and clean up for the evening ahead. I had not thought to pack a dress for a week on a farm, so Chris, about the same size as myself, offered me a choice of several light summer dresses from her closet.

Always I have gotten butterflies when having to integrate with a large group of strangers. It’s not that I’m an introvert, I actually love interacting with other human beings, but too many of them at once I find a little overpowering. Once dressed I wandered out in the garden to find Bob J. already dressed and seated in the shade in a lawn chair. After surveying me with his gaze as if checking for weapons he commented that I cleaned up very well. In the world of Bob J. I believe this was a compliment, so I took it as such. In turn I thought he “cleaned up well”. Face free of stubble, hair combed, a freshly pressed shirt tucked into a well fitting pair of clean jeans, most attractive. We sat next to each other for a while enjoying the lull before the storm. He shared he was glad I’d come and that his family had been pleased with how I’d rolled up my sleeves and got dirty along with the rest of them. I thanked him knowing it was high praise from someone who did not relieve himself of praise easily. The moment hanging between us was broken by a truck driving through the gate allowing the energy to dissipate. Excusing myself, I went inside to let Chris know our first guest had arrived and to see what I could do to help.

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About forty people ended up filling the chairs out back, some filtering inside after the sun set and the bugs made their nightly appearance. The margaritas were as promised icy cold and tart and if possible each course served was better than the one preceding it. The lamb, well I don’t have words. Ray had cooked it to perfection. It was tender and juicy and, yes, served with mint jelly and sprigs of fresh mint. The tables were set up eight to a table with a smaller table for the children of which there were exactly ten. Twinkling lanterns were strung from tree to tree to provide illumination. Each table was beautifully decorated with long trails of wildflowers. A young man I recognized from church the day before sat on a bale of hay entertaining us with country music and playing his guitar. Desserts were served with a lovely after dinner wine. Chris’s triple berry pie, a recipe I use to this day, was the star sitting alongside a glass bowl of trifle, an assortment of cakes and plate after plate of cookies and bars. About nine, people starting peeling off and heading towards their vehicles as the next day was a work day.

What a wonderful night that was. Everyone pitched in. Once the last guest’s taillights had disappeared down the road we all carried something into the kitchen. Eva and Dawn, running on a sugar high, had to be carried sniffling into bed. Chris and I stayed up late and washed dishes putting leftovers in containers to be stored in the fridge. When finally I walked down the hall towards my room I realized I would really miss this new family of mine. It was a night I shall always keep with me, and of course the blueberry pie recipe.

Chris’s Triple Berry Pie

Double Crust Pie Shell

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
4-5 Tbsp. milk

Combine flour and salt in small bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like course crumbs. Sprinkle with vinegar. Gradually add milk tossing with a fork until a ball forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.

Divide pastry in half leaving one ball slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger of the two to fit 9″-10″ pie plate. Transfer pastry to pie plate. Trim to rim. Brush bottom of shell with 1 Tbsp. water whisked with 1 egg white. Reserve the rest.

Roll out second shell to fit over top of the first. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling

2 1/2 cups blueberries, sorted and any stems removed
3/4 cup raspberries
3/4 cups blackberries
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. water

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over berries. Using your hands gently turn until well coated. Pour into prepared shell.

Lay top pastry over berry mix. Press and seal edges with bottom shell. Trim as needed. Cut four slits in center to vent. Brush top with remaining egg white/water mixture.

Bake for 50 mins. or until browned and bubbly.

Cook on wire rack.

 

 

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