It is hard for me at times to keep from looking at ever more grander farms. This morning I found this gem advertised on the New York Times.:
This is an extraordinary property: 147 acres near New Paltz with stone barns and a beautiful old farmhouse. I could live there, raise a larger herd of cows than I now have and make a tremendous amount of fine cheese.
I most likely will stay here on Vashon Island however. I have been here for the past twenty years, the herd is excellent, the cheese fabulous and the cheese cave is nearly complete. It is hard not to look at pictures of old stone barns with ten times the acreage I now have and imagine living there. Thankfully the $1.9 million price tag will keep me based in reality.
I do wish I could master the art of reveling in the present, instead of looking for a grander future. The present is damn nice.
I love the internet. Really I do. I could expound on the ways that I use it at every hour of the day. I panic if I don’t have my iPhone on me at all times. I love the connection to the world.
But then, I get a glimpse of our former ways and I revel in it. Last week a reporter from the Seattle Times came out to the farm to interview me about cheese making. We spoke for a bit, the next day a photographer came out to take some photos; the next day a videographer. I knew that there would be an article coming out sometime this week on the small farms of Vashon, but I really didn’t know when.
Early this morning I received the first email from people who had read the morning paper. I did what I have done a few times over the years, I hopped in my truck and drove to the grocery store to buy a paper. Not yet showered, not having finished my morning chores, I got to the store soon after it opened.
I bought a few copies of the morning paper, quickly thumbing through them in line, hoping to see how it looked. Then, in the parking lot, my dog bored in the passenger seat, I opened up the Times to read the article. Most pleased, I drove back to the farm to a complete review.
I enjoy this. The early morning paper buy. The small stack of copies. They will go into the box in the attic with others from the past three decades. In the dim winter months I often paw through the box, reminded of past stories, past photographs printed in this paper or that.
I just don’t get the same excitement from the web. I don’t get up early to see if a web site includes a mention, a photograph, a video of me or my work. I might notice the mention days or weeks or months later, with little fanfare. I never print out a blurb or a link or a blog post. That box in the attic has little added to it in the past half decade.
I enjoyed the early morning parking lot read especially today. I get a big smile on my face, even if my dog Daisy would have preferred to stay in bed a few minutes longer.
I tend to be quite the homebody. I rarely leave the farm and even more rarely eat food that I didn’t grow. Sure, every Wednesday I travel to the city to deliver cheese and I always have lunch out and usually dinner, but it tends to be nice, precious, local food. And rarely do I eat meat from a source that I don’t know.
This does not come from a place of arrogance at all. Simply I have cows that need to be milked daily, there is a tedious ferry boat between me and any tasty restaurants. And I have a freezer or three filled with great meat.
This Wednesday, I went a bit out of bounds. I was meeting friends for dinner and I took the responsibility of choosing the restaurant. Usually it would be the latest, newest, sustainable boite. The day before though I had been reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s book Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. I rather like the book and decided I needed Sichuan food for dinner. The designated dinner spot was now Sichuan Cuisine Restaurant on Jackson Street in Seattle. I usually only go there on Christmas Day but it sounded like a nice change on a hot, sunny evening..
(I must note here that there is no way I will every be one of those sad food bloggers that snaps of picture of every course and every plate, only to post it the next morning with their tired commentary.)
There is really no point while eating at a restaurant like SCR to be all pissy about the provenance of the food stuffs. It is tasty. Spicy usually and always interesting. It also tastes nothing like the Euro-centric food of my white-boy table.
The kicker though was the end of the meal. The rather charming waiter brought out a small dish of Sichuan peppers. Somehow I had never eaten these by themselves. All around the table we chewed on them, letting them explode in our mouths, numbing our collective tongues and cheeks and throats. It was truly a revelation. Not because it was a unique feeling necessarily; the attorney next to me commented that it reminded him of gumming coke in the eighties, but rather because it was a different sensation. More profound that just great buttered broccoli, or beautifully braised beef, or a gooey, ripe cheese.
I drove back to the farm that evening, watching the sun set from the ferry boat and realizing that sticking with the same great, healthy, well raised, food is great and all, but it just isn’t that exciting. Sichuan peppers exploding on my tongue: thats exciting.
I must apologize for being so tardy in writing a new journal post. The web site was being re-done and there were other things going on. All excuses, mostly I just forgot.
I did want to share this bit from Monday though.
Frederic, the Frenchman who built the barn, the roof of the Cookhouse building and the roof over the wood fired bread oven, stopped by unannounced Monday afternoon. He was driving his work truck, a large 1956 Dodge flatbed truck with questionable mechanical abilities. Years ago he replaced the standard flat bed with a French timber frame base. It is a sight to behold. There is this great contrast between the rusting out, smoke bellowing, dented old Dodge truck and this beautifully crafted wooden frame. The past twenty years of weather have only given it more grace.
On the back of the truck was a large mound covered with a silver tarp, held down with thick web straps. He pulled up to the barn and let me know that he had something for me. Most intrigued, I went up to the truck to peer under the covers.
Frederic had decided to cut his pasture around his wood shop with a scythe, dry the grass and bring the resulting hay to my barn to feed the cows. Vashon might be a bit behind the times, but this still is a rare occurrence. He is certainly not a mow the lawn every weekend with a riding lawnmower kind of guy. A scythe make much more sense for his character.
Together we pitched the large pile of beautiful green loose hay into the hay room of the barn. I must explain that we didn’t use pitch forks from the local hardware; bright colored ergonomic spongy handled types, but rather perfect worn pitch forks. He brought two of the most beautiful forks I have ever seen. The wood was burnished from years of use, the prongs still sharp and bright, the curve and shape elegant.
When we had finished, Frederic loaded up the two forks, the tarp and drove back down the driveway to his wood shop in the old, creaking Dodge truck, the bed bouncing about as he navigated the pot holes in my drive. Tomorrow the cows will get a bit of the beautiful handmade hay in their mangers. I doubt that they will appreciate the whole process, but I certainly will.