Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Christmas Dinner 2011

Before we get too much more into 2012, I better post the menu and pix from Christmas dinner 2011.

We were definitely in the mood for a warm, cozy meal with loads seasonal veggies but not a lot of fussy dishes or overly rich ingredients. In the interest of keeping things simple, I elected to pass on doing a meat entree for me as I normally do for the big holiday meals. I also didn't bother much with presentation (not that I ever do a lot in this area), only making a token use of "the good china."  It worked. We had a delicious meal and didn't spend all day in the kitchen. Here's what we had:

Arugula Salad with Jerusalem Artichokes and Shaved Parmesan
Wild Mushroom Shepherds' Pie with Mushroom/Pinot Sauce
Roasted Onion Gratin (made with seven different types of onions)
Fennel Gratin
Honey Yeast Rolls
Mincemeat Pie

And here's the pictorial proof:

Jerusalem artichokes for the salad dug from our yard on Christmas Eve:

The salad (with requisite Christmas cracker and a glass of Sokol-Blosser Meditrina)

The onions in all their roasted glory (and they were glorious--truly):

All together now (sorry, seem to have neglected a photo of the entree on its own):

And the finale:

This meal seems like it was a million years ago already but I'm glad to be thinking of it again. It's a good reminder that I need to dig out the recipe for that onion dish again and not just save it for holidays. Maybe if I have it two or three more times I'll be able to put into words just how phenomenal it was.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How Did She Do That?

I try to make sure I get out to see the water buffalo at least twice a day. In winter, it's a necessary part of making sure they have enough hay to eat and access to unfrozen water. And removing the digested hay/water from their bedding (i.e., mucking out the barn). If it's ridiculously cold, then I'm out there at least three times a day, breaking up ice in the water tank. Fortunately, this winter has been unusually mild. Not that I mind visiting the buffalo--it's just nicer to do it when the weather is cooperating.

When the buffs are grazing in the warm months and don't need my daily visits, I still get out there as often as I can. Mostly for my mental health. Hanging out with them always makes me feel better. Well, almost always. Sometimes they give me a heart attack.

Like on New Year's Eve. Jim and I had spent much of the week trying to clear a fence line for some new pasture. The area--part of what we call the old orchard for the mix of old and seedling apple trees that we keep uncovering--is extremely steep and covered with vines of every kind. The middle is still largely grass but the pine forest on the north end is trying to extend its reach into what once was pasture. There are large sections that are nothing but blackberry brambles with the occasional multiflora rose making a thorny thicket over the moss-covered clay soil. It's quite treacherous to walk up and down and really works those muscle groups that languish during long hours in front of the computer. That said, it is probably the only reason we are losing weight in the wintertime (a first!).

At first, we simply pushed out the fence line of the current pasture which borders the old orchard. That gave the buffs a taste of the steep slopes along with a boatload of honeysuckle vines growing over the blackberry canes. Honeysuckle leaves are some of the few fresh foods available to the buffs this time of year and they've exhausted their supply in the main pasture areas. As soon as we let them in, they began tearing into the vines, seemingly impervious to the blackberry thorns. We continued our work on the next section and then took a lunch break.

This might be a good time to remind you of what a buffalo looks like since I don't have any photos of what happened next. This is Effie:

When we came back, Eschol was grazing and Audrey was standing next to Effie who seemed to be maxing and relaxing on her side. Odd thing was, she didn't lift her head as we approached. It's not unusual for the buffs to lie on their side, but Effie is pretty vigilant about checking out anyone who approaches. As we got closer, we realized something was not right. As we walked up to the gate, she jumped up on three legs and we saw the problem: her right front leg had somehow gotten hooked over her horn and she couldn't get it free.

At moments like these, the brain both freezes and goes into hyperdrive as it tries to process what it's seeing (blink, blink) while starting to run through all the scenarios for how this problem could be solved or get much, much worse. Meanwhile, this 1300+ pound animal is thrashing around on three legs, shaking her head as hard as she can with a leg hung up on a horn, while trying to maintain her balance on a uneven, sloped surface. Despite the presence of the bull, we knew we had to get in there with her to help. So, we turned off the electric fence and jumped in.

She seemed to understand that we were there to help and she lay down where we could work on freeing her leg. Naturally, Eschol came over to help. Well, that's what Jim says. I think he saw an opportunity to play. I tried to keep him and his horns occupied while Jim tried to get Effie to turn her head just so while he tugged on her leg. No dice. However she got her leg into that position, she just couldn't relax enough to get it back out. We started to worry that there might have to be a horn amputation. We really didn't want to do that and aren't equipped to do it anyway. Maybe if both of us could be working on her. I went to set up the lines to cross the other buffs back into the main pasture.

As soon as I turned my back, Eschol moved in. Something he did to Effie made her turn her head at just the odd angle Jim needed to free the leg. Hooray! Whether he meant to or not, Eschol helped to save the day. Effie jumped up on all fours and proceeded to thank us with a muchness of licking. She didn't seem any worse for wear and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.

How she got herself in that mess to begin with we may never know. Our best guess is that she was on a steep slope with her front legs splayed out on the up slope ahead of her. She probably put her head down between her legs as she tried to hook her horns in the vines so she could pull them up by the root (a favorite trick of the buffs which usually results in them wearing a stunningly large crown of vines). In the process of shaking her head around to loop ever more vines in her horns, she somehow hooked her hoof. No doubt she panicked at the sensation and ended up extending her leg, making it tougher to get it free.

I'm not sure if you can see it from this angle but Effie's horns (she's on the right) come out away from her head a bit more than Audrey's whose horns are more tightly curled and swept back. That combined with a great deal of leg flexibility (illustrated here by Audrey's muddy eye resulting from her ability to paw at her eye) seems to have been her undoing. We hope she has learned her lesson. Mostly we're just relieved that she's fine and all three of the buffs were in fine shape yesterday as the rain lifted for just long enough for us to see the most brilliant rainbow (briefly double).

OK, and one more picture. This time of our hero (on this day--we won't discuss his subsequent work tearing off the barn door): Eschol.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back in the Saddle

Happy 2012! Sorry for the long radio silence. I began teaching at the local community college last August and it absolutely consumed me. I knew it would be quite a bit of work since it was my first time teaching and I only got officially hired a few days before the semester began. Between learning the administrative side of things, refreshing my knowledge of the subject matter (veterinary medical technology), and adapting the existing course materials, I had a lot of preparing to do. And with a group of 48 students, the core classroom activities and grading were a logistical nightmare throughout the term. It shouldn't be so bad the next time around but for the past few months I've done only the bare minimum on anything other than school stuff.

After I submitted final grades in mid-December, I began to look forward to once again spending time on the farm (outside--not chained to my computer), hanging with the buffs, cooking, and blogging. Of course, there was the small matter of the holidays to contend with first. We kept it mostly simple and quiet, catching up with friends here and family by phone. In the coming days, I'll be posting about some of what we've been up to on the farm since last August. For now, let's begin at the end: our New Year's feast.

We stuck with old favorite recipes from Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij . This has to be our all-time favorite cookbook. It is stuffed with delicious recipes from multiple countries/cultures (from China to the Mediterranean and everything in between)--not one of which feels like it comes from a "vegetarian" cookbook. I never notice the absence of meat in these dishes and none of the recipes feels like a poor imitation of or substitution for something else. A few of the ingredients are hard to find but nothing that can't be ordered on the intertubes with a little advance planning.

Our menu for New Year's (half prepared on the Eve and half prepared on the Day) included:

Tashkent Daikon and Pomegranate Salad
Kermani Pistachio Soup with Pomegranate Seeds
Aremenian Bulgur and Pomegranate Stuffed Grapevine Leaves
Levantine Pilaf in Pastry

The latter is something that I've been craving for a long time--the mix of rice, almonds, apricots, raisins, and carrots with spices and a hint of rosewater all baked together in phyllo is the most addictive and attractive side dish. I love to make pies be they for the main course or dessert and this is the only side-dish pie in my repertoire.

Mmmmm.....pie. Maybe someday I'll do a theme dinner where every course is some sort of pie. Yeah, I think I'm being unduly influenced by the daily Facebook postings from my favorite pie shop The Right Slice.....