Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey, ducks and the friends who helped us eat them.

I'm a changed omnivore. After eating one of Gillen's turkeys and two of his ducks for Thanksgiving dinner, I now intend to only meat occasionally, and only from our farm or from farmers we know.

I didn't even take part in the duck and turkey slaughter. I just watched a few minutes of the plucking and some of the guts removal (which I also smelled) and I saw the pictures that our adventurous, young, wise, vegetarian friend Persephone bravely took of the event. I took the clean path of Japanese dinner preparation in my newly orderly kitchen. But something shifted inside of me. Maybe it was having known this dinner as ducklings and poults, or maybe it was that smell. Or maybe I have just woken up to just how much we gloss over the slaughter of the animals we eat by wrapping it all up in cellophane and placing it in massive, even stacks in grocer's coolers. In Europe, the feet and heads are left attached. I like that.

As Persephone's boyfriend, meat-eating Chopper, said this week - if we had to go through this process every time I think we would eat meat only on special occasions. That's my new plan. We'll see how the family adapts.

I'm not out to recruit anyone to this way of thinking. So I'll show only appetizing pictures of the birds and none of the main event. Just these:Those ducks that were not facing their last day at our farm were chased away from the scene of the slaughter by Gillen and his friend Aaron.Chopper helped Nicolas with every step, including thanking the birds.Washing them after they have been de-gutted.

Chopper fried the turkey outside so that we would have room in the oven for the many gourmet sides that Persephone helped me prepare and for the two ducks:
Almost the entire meal was local, including green beans I'd frozen this summer, sweet potatoes, yukon gold potatoes, escarole, radichio, raw milk and cheese. Next year, maybe we can use all local ingredients.

The exceptions were the pumpkin, cherry and pecan pies. Will you look at Persephone's pies:Look what that girl can do with pastry.
And they tasted as good as they looked.She also spent hours helping me prepare a Japanese dinner while the guys finished plucking and gutting the birds. I had to prepare Japanese for the joy of using all of my Japanese plates, bowls, sake cups and of course, these:Persephone worked so hard that when I prepared local beef (this is pre-Thanksgiving revelations) one day, the smell drove her to eat half a burger, for the first time in decades:And Chopper also got to act out of character, playing wii and W.O.W. for the first time and spending hours on the trampoline, rediscovering his boyhood, and a B-B gun (they're aiming at coconuts on the compost pile) with Gillen and Jesse:What a week. It was full and deep.

Another highlight was going to see Manheim Steamroller with some of our favorite unschooling friends, at the Fox Theater. Gillen and Jesse loved it. Jesse was inspired by it to want to play the violin. I admit, I wish it had been the keyboard. I now officially have some spirit and we are very ready for my Montana and Australian family to arrive.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tearing my self away from de-cluttering

Now that I've started, I can't stop. The newly cleared and repainted white space in my kitchen is like a beacon - pouring bright, revealing light onto every still-cluttered corner of my home. I want nothing more in life right now than to fill the trunk of my car with stuff for Goodwill and then clean and artfully display the real treasures that have surfaced. For instance, I came upon a yellowing piece of Japanese newspaper wrapped around something in the back of a drawer. I opened it up and found the tiny chopstick holders that I'd bought in a Tokyo yen store (like a dollar store) when Nicolas and I were there visiting his sister years ago. I can't tell you how exciting this was. I am going to make a Japanese meal next week for our visiting friends from Rhode Island, Persephone and Chopper, just so that we can eat with chopsticks - chopsticks that are picked up off of the table where they will be gracefully resting on these:The kids and I (with some local friends, the Wilsons) ate Japanese food yesterday at an unschoolers' Japanese festival hosted by Beth. It was great to reconnect with the Atlanta unschooling families.

There were lots of happy kids (who have all grown way too much since August) playing with the many surprisingly happy animals - Beth owns and fosters cats, dogs and a ferret.Above is Katie, holding Lucinda, who is named after the sweet girl below (Lucy for short), holding Violet.
There were swings, and football,
a fierce yu-gi-oh tournament to make Jesse's day, despite coming in second to Max:Origami, good conversation, and examples of cool crochet projects - Kimba's leg warmer for Lucy
that, on top the other project that I saw the day before at a more local gathering of friends:could possibly pull me away from more sock knitting. This beautiful blanket was whipped up in no time by Helen. I had to add the second picture so that I could commemorate the squirrel on the shelf behind her head, which was killed and stuffed by that day's wonderful host's husband (and Gillen's hunting hero) Allen. I have never seen this squirrel when we were there, ever. I had heard tales of him while on the phone with Allen's wife, Claudia, when she interrupted her talk of sweet tea to exclaim, "There's a squirrel in our fridge!"

But that conversation was at least a year ago. I have never noticed the squirrel. Or if I did, I don't remember. This is why I blog - to notice the details and then note them down so I'll remember them.

Now, back to unearthing the details in my home.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Turnips and Cabbage and Watermelon, oh my.

Every time we go to the farm, the kids immediately run to the barn, the cooler or out to the field for a turnip. They peel and eat several. I prefer them roasted.

In French, "mon petit chou" is an endearment. "Chou" means cabbage. I hear Nicolas' mom and his siblings say "chou-chou" often. Here's my big Chou with a bodacious head (of cabbage).

The farm has about a thousand pounds of watermelon radish right now.
They are much prettier opened up. We love them in salad.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cleaning Up

For a year now, Nicolas has had it with our couch. It has well-loved throws and wool blankets strategically covering its gaping seams and stains. But the real problem is that for many months now, it has no longer provided comfort at the end of a hard day. It is the sanctuary to which Nicolas retreats when he wants to fall asleep hang out with us around the wood stove.

So I researched couches, for a very long time, really wanting to just get one from Freecycle or Craig's list but also knowing how little chance there would be of accomplishing that in a timely manner when Nicolas can't drop everything to go pick it up and I can't drive the truck (I'm not a real woman -I don't shift, yet) to get it myself.

We went to a local furniture chain (blech)- the one place we could go to get a couch delivered quickly - meaning before six weeks from now. We have lots of valuable friends and family due to start arriving in a week.

It was late. We arrived an hour before the store closed. We sat on every couch. And then, with only minutes before closing, we decided upon the one I'd found online.

"I can only get you that one in the pearl color if you want it before January," announced our salesman.

Pearl? We looked at one another, visions of our red clay filled farm life running through our heads.

"Leather is very easy to clean. You can get it sealed at the factory and I'll be giving you leather cleaner in these bottles that you can come and get refilled, for life."

I thought about how dark our living room is and how difficult it has been to add more light with the old wiring. A white couch would really lighten up the room and would provide the highlights needed to see our guests' faces. I thought of a new bright, clean future that supported life with a pearl couch. I found myself agreeing to this purchase. Not only that, we bought the pearl colored chair to go with it. They will arrive on Wednesday.

I have been waking up in the middle of the night from bad dreams that include strange color combinations and dirt.

On a positive note, we have been even more inspired to de-clutter and deep clean our home, so that it will go with our couch:
Above are our newly repainted kitchen shelves, to hold the beautiful glasses and china that were being lost in the dirt streaked white.
My mothers' crystal, the Brenna mug I bought at the Live and Learn conference, the mug from our recent trip to Belgium, the dark blue glazed goblet from Ann Ohman, the mug from a Joffrey Ballet concert years ago called Billboards, the hearts mug from Nicolas last Valentine's day, the big pink tumbler that is Mindy's, the yen store cups from Japan, my mother's small Mexican mugs that I treasure so much that I painted a bathroom with the same colors, the egg cups from our wedding...

I'm pairing it all down to the essentials.
And I'm thinking of knitting a very washable blanket that will completely cover the new furniture. Because really, what were we thinking.

Local Meals

I just realized that I am too late to sign up for the dark days local challenge but I will post locally grown meals throughout the fall and winter anyway. Here are two from this week. There's lots of salads, greens and roots in the colder months, and meat from our friends at Riverview Farms.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grateful to be Here

Really. I confess that I kind of did want to move to the little village of Benne Vagienna in Italy, and even more to Nicolas' family's biking community in Holland. Last January, it was Sydney and the Blue Mountains of Australia that had my heart. Can you blame me?

But I do love our life here. Luckily, this year's election week was a good week to be coming home to America. Yes, it was.

Big reasons to be cheerful:

We got ourselves a video camera. Our other one has been dead for a while now. Nicolas wants me to make educational farming You Tube videos. But in the meantime, Jesse and Gillen have been spending hours filming bike-stunt (well, they try for bike crashes actually) videos. My favorite part is watching Jesse watch himself. I want to record that giggle; and put away that laundry.Lat weekend had us at yet another food event, this one on a local southern farm with bluegrass playing and all the best chefs in Atlanta cooking. We go to this one every year.This time Nicolas was excited to be paired with the restaurant Five Seasons Brewing.They dipped his sweet baby turnips into a carmelized butternut squash sauce:In another booth his African squash made an appearance in an array of local vegetables that were fried in a tempura batter. Mmmmmm...And lastly, tonight is the long awaited So You Think You Can Dance concert in Atlanta. That show was our summer obsession and inspired Jesse to start dancing. The kids and I are meeting Mindy and her family there. We'll turn that Crystal Organic Farm sign into one that celebrates our favorite dancers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A day in Brugges

The day after Nicolas and I got home to Holland (late) from Italy, Marie-Helene and Jean-Pierre told us that we were going to Brugges that day, by bike. I'm sure that they asked us if we wanted to go, but I was coming down with a flue that day and my French wasn't so good. I'm glad that I didn't think there was a choice. Even with the fog of flue and with a head that screamed in pain when my bike wheels had to maneuver too many uneven cobblestones, I loved this day. Brugges is surrounded by a moat and by fortress entrances. We took a guided boat ride on the canal and got to see all of the oldest buildings up close. The guide was great - he called the green statue of a woman lying on her stomach "woman looking for contact lens". For more detail, you can click on my flickr id and see the brief photo descriptions there. The first few photos are of Damme, the town that is half way to Brugges from where we were staying.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chez Jean-Pierre and Marie-Helene

The majority of our two week stay in Europe was spent with the kids at Nicolas' father and stepmother's beautiful home in Holland. They are down the street from the quaint dutch town of Sluiss but also just a few minutes from Nicolas' native country, Belgium. The country here is flat, deep green (the frequently rained grass), dark brown (the soil) and filled with happy farm animals - Belgian work horses, cows and mostly, sheep.

Jean-Pierre and Marie-Helene bike almost every day for three hours in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, Jean-Pierre gardens. Marie Helene does yoga and pilates. They are a bit more fit than the four of us (well, maybe not the farmer). But thanks to the flat land and Marie-Helene's hearty French meals, we were able to go with them on several long (to us) bike rides. It is idyllic there. I couldn't just pick a few pictures so I posted this slide show. I've saved our visit to the ancient city of Brugges (a city where I would like to end my years writing books) for another post.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Big-Hearted Benne Vegienna

I am going to write yet another very long post about our four days in Italy. This is because I have a dismal memory that may lose Italy if I don't record it here. Plus, I am loving re-living those days. And finally, because I am hoping that someone who reads here may feel inspired to look further into the Slow Food organization and/or nominate themselves as a delegate in two years for the next Terra Madre.

The only thing missing in Italy that week were a certain brilliant farmer/educator from Maryland and a fiesty red-headed one from Wisconsin. ; )

So, on to the stories about Benne Vegienna - the romantic, lovely little village where we stayed, and that, yes, much to all of our squealing third-grade-boy-like glee, is pronounced, with lots of intense Italian articulation, exactly like a certain part of the female anatomy. : > 0

Every day, hundreds of buses took all six thousand plus Terra Madre delegates to hotels in the areas surrounding Turin. Our bus ride was an hour and a half long. Our group was made up of mostly young American farmers and we were led by the best two young Italian volunteers that have ever existed in the history of Italian volunteers. I know I'm right about this. If you go to the next Terra Madre, you have to make sure to get on the bus with Eugenio (the cute anthropologie major from Rome) and Fabiola (the beautiful young female medical student), both of whom had the most charming English, ever. Here is an example - a recent email from Eugenio:

Hello my friends,
I am Eugenio!
how was your return in United States?
Are you happy e serene? I hope so! Are you talking with your friends about terra madre, turin, Bene Vagienna and the seven churches of Bene Vagienna? ( i have still to show you the third church!)...You all are in my heart, and I can imagine you now if I close my eyes, you are on your sofa, drinking wine watching the electoral results on tv hoping for Obama. I am with you.
... I miss you all. I would like to wish you a good day, a good week, a good month, a good year, a good two year....until the next terra madre when we will meet in Turin for the second time.
Today is a great day for me because i will move in bologna tomorrow, and i am very gloomy.

At the end of each day's meetings we assembled for our bus by searching through the hundreds of signs for this one, and by listening for the wonderful Italian cry of "Benne Vegienna!" being sung out by Eugenio or Fabiola.

To the left is Eugenio, always ready to guide or embrace any of us:
Here is our group of young Americans . I was the older American, by then on about the eighth night of insomnia, so happily taking the picture. One night, Eugenio was enlisted to translate for us during an impromptu midnight tour of the city of Benne Vegienna by the minister of culture there. But first, more introductions of the town's protagonists.

Below, the Minister is dancing with one of the American farmers at an annual celebration of the city that took place in a tent, one of the nights that we were there.
Our intrepid Hotel Manager wishing us goodbye, as he did everyday, while we pulled off in our bus towards Turin.
Here is a museum curator who spoke English really well and was enlisted by the minister of culture to give us a tour of one of Benne Vegienna's magnificent churches, late one night. The ancient angel lent support.
With the generous help of yet another curator, we were then given a tour of Benne Vegienna's archaeological museum. This area of Italy was part of an original Roman city and there is even a partially excavated Roman amphitheater in the area.

That same night, we were invited to view an artist's exhibit that hadn't yet even been opened to the public.

Judith brought some sustenance - Meade that she purchased at the presidio market that day. It was a loving cup, shared by all. The art was really good too. Lisa shared her prickled pears:
The impassioned guy on the right is the young successful founder of High Mowing Seeds, a farm in Vermont that grows organic seeds and whom Nicolas was very excited to be able to meet in person. His wife, a potter, is also very cool. He shared dried caterpillars on the bus, which he purchased every day from an African farmer. He generously also always brought Meade to help wash them down. These two are the South Carolina farmers that our friends the Lovejoys know. They are unschoolers! What a surprise, with so many people, to have them at the same hotel. Here they are reading the beautiful book about the ancient town that existed before Benne Vegienna, a book that was given to each of us by that irrepressible, industrious, always smiling Minister of Culture. My favorite night in the village was the night when we were invited to see a local band perform in one of the many churches. "Trio Bab" was made up of an accordionist, a drummer and a guitarist. They played music from Cirque de Soleil, Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose, and my favorite of their choices - this music from Amelie. We arrived almost at the end of their concert but the Minister of Culture kept murmuring things in one or another of their ears as they would leave the stage, always resulting in yet another encore. They didn't seem to mind at all. They were so passionate about their music and happy to try out their English on us before each of their five encores.

It was a beautiful church:
We went after dinner, so it was after our nightly allotment of local red wine. Lots of wine can be poured over four courses. All of this is to say, I thought that I was seeing straight. This angel has the same mouth (as well as that area between the nose and mouth) as my brother and Gillen.
After Trio Bab finally were allowed to call it a night, we were given a tour of BenneVegienna by the Minister of Culture, with Eugenio trying to translate. It is filled with those old European narrow, cobble stoned streets, tunneled sidewalks, and soft street lights that immediately bring you back in time.The best of the many stories we heard was one told after viewing the ancient outdoor freezer - a thick, stone, well-like enclosure. We were on a street... ah, I've lost the name - but it is the Italian word for that sigh that you take when you are very much in love. Eugenio charmingly demonstrated this sigh for us. Then, continuing to translate the minister's words, he told us that people always kissed on this small street. We were then led by the m. of c. to a small park, just up the hill. We stood there silently for a moment, taking in the brilliant fall leaves' colors, dramatically lit by a street lamp. The silence was broken by a sigh. It was the sigh that Eugenio had described. We all looked for its source. It came from a cute elderly man from the town who had been accompanying us on our tour. He spoke. Eugenio translated. He pointed dramatically to a bench across the lawn and said that this was the bench where he had first made love. And then he added - "it was to a woman" just in case, I guess, we were thinking a mule, or a man. Then those Italians present all started sharing stories, some of which may have been translated by Eugenio, but none of which I heard, so hysterical and joyful were I and my fellow Americans to be witnessing this Italian scene. I didn't have my camera that night so there are no pictures but I remember the glow of amber light hitting that bench, as well as the partially lit castle we then saw that is now a home for the elderly.

We all agreed - we were the luckiest group in the whole of Terra Madre, except for the fact that now everything pales in comparison to that town and those wine-filled meals. Well, not everything. We were very ready to get back to Holland to see Gillen and Jesse, who'd been staying with Nicolas' father and step-mother.

Maybe I can be less slow while reliving Holland.