winter

IN LIKE A LION

 

After more than a week's worth of pondering the forecast, wondering whether or not our favorite farm store's annual pancake breakfast was going to be cancelled, winter storm Stella arrived. She announced herself at daybreak with a few inches of powder to walk through on our way to the barn. Then she gathered... and fast. As the snow drifts piled several feet high by late morning, we decided to play it safe and take our breakfast next door at Wayward Goose Farm.

The hatches were battened down. All of the animals were safely closed into the barns, with boards of plywood temporarily tacked up over the windows. The kids were snuggled up under heat lamps, bellies full of milk. Meanwhile, every doe & buck lined up along the aisle of the barn and munched hay to its heart's content. And so, we enjoyed the sights of the blizzard from a window seat for an hour or two set to the tune of Duke Ellington's greatest hits, with the aroma of pancakes, bacon, coffee, and all manner of maple product, and with the company of farmers—all savoring the chance for a quick respite on the snow day of the year.

Though it may not feel so here in Vermont, Spring is near, and Kidding Season is gathering like a sudden storm in its own right. But for now we enjoy the relative stillness of a world wrapped in a thick blanket of snow. Here's hoping what they say is true: "in like a lion, out like a lamb."


—M

WINTER AS IT WAS | PHOTOS FROM AFIELD

 

Winter as it was. Moments that existed in the deep cracks of our wood planked floors, in the recesses of our mid-day minds feeding out hay, and in the slow but persistent realization of our dreams. I look at these images, all from our cell phones and none shared with anyone, and I feel these moments. The hens surveying their wintry manor before leaving the coop; a particularly pudgy block of cow cheese that was so beautiful I could not help but marvel; mending Mark's farm pants using sashiko stitching as an act of love and homemaking (inspired by this post); and on and on. Winter has been good to us. It has stretched me as a wife, challenged me as a farmer, deepened my faith, and even affirmed a few dreams.

I cannot help but remark on the way my mind and heart are turning dramatically towards homemaking. I could chalk it up to the magic of knitting (and realizing that I can Make Anything, from an heirloom hot water bottle cover to a knitted bedspread—a new life goal). Or maybe it's that rural life lends itself well to intentional acts on the land and in the home. With galavanting at an all time low, we have little choice but to sink well and good into our pursuits of land + home. It must have something to do with raising our own meat, curing the hides, and having them tanned so that our future baby (God-willing) has a cozy soft goatskin to sleep on. I don't know, and in fact I'm nearing on rambling now. The extra hours of sunlight are giving me hope — and this, from a child of winter. —s

Ah, March—when we, indeed, march headlong into this fickle new season. Winter is beginning to stubbornly relent. The sun rises on a 65-degree day, but is soon-to-be vanquished by a rapidly gathering cold front, and a wind chill factor of 30-below. No, winter is not over yet, but it certainly seems to be on its last legs. 

At present moment, there is still time to read a quick chapter, to patch a weathered pair of pants, or listen to both sides of a record between feedings & chores. After all, there are only a dozen kids so far: a gentle trickle before Kidding Season's proverbial levee breaks in a few days' time. In this way, winter still seems to be very much with us. Most of the time, we manage to finish work around 5 o'clock—when the rest of the world is also heading home—which gives us a chance to take a slow walk home, enjoying the scenery in the ever-stretching daylight. It's a fine time to notice the changes happening around you: the song of the early-arriving Red-winged Blackbird, the cushion of the thawing earth below your feet. But these accumulating new arrivals of spring are still brushing shoulders with the departures of winter, giving us time to bid farewell & thanks to the seasonal travelers who have kept us company during these slow months of farming: icicles, snow drifts, and chimney smoke. —m


—M&S

NORTHERN WINTER + THE DANCE OF LIFE

 

As I type this, a snow front is sweeping across our region. The beauty of the North (rather, one beauty of the North) is the preparedness of its residents. Six inches is a lot of snow to fall overnight, but it doesn't seem to stop anyone from doing anything. In chatting with a  neighbor who runs a small cow dairy and hauls animals for us, he explained that his plan was to start milking at 2:30 a.m. in order to get on the road by 5:30 a.m. for where he was headed. Come snow, come freeze, that was his plan. If inhabitants of the South have a warmth all their own, those in the North are tenacious. And I like this. Maybe especially on a farm, where the weather cannot deter what Must Be Done. Living among a community that responds to this call is welcome.

The animals and the mornings have made it abundantly clear that winter is here. With their thick coats, their early roosting time (the chickens are roosting in their coop by 4 p.m., as determined by the setting sun), the frozen water lines and, perhaps most of all, the moon that hangs in the sky longer than the sun—it's all a magnificent dance of seasonality. The kids we have been personally raising, Dill and Tuna, live in a small lean-to with a short concrete wall for resting behind. There is plenty of hay on the ground for added warmth, but still Mark and I wondered if they would be "OK" in the impending weather: warm enough, dry enough, full enough. The answer is Yes. Very Yes. As farmers we often care for animals as if their lives depend on us, but most times — like today, for instance — I am reminded that animals are fueled by a need to survive, and a healthy animal will find a way to survive 99% of the time with no human intervention. Conversely, if an animal is unhealthy, it probably will not survive. That's it. Mark wrote a post on this subject early in the spring that rings as true today as it did then. We do our best, and so do they. The dance of life is most magnificent of all—humbling, awe-some, tenacious.


—S

O CHRISTMAS TREE | PINE NEEDLE + ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD

 

Ah, December—how we missed thee. 'Tis the season—a very special season—for, oh, so many reasons. When we walked into the barn and turned the calendar page to December 1st, we were greeted by the following tidbit: "the beginning of winter." Although that is not quite true, technically speaking, it sure feels like it. We have had our first snow; the fire in our wood stove burns on perpetual; and, yes, Christmas is nigh! In our family, this is cause for celebration—true, full-hearted and full-bellied celebration—all month long. Believe it or not, winter is our favorite season (as it well should be, given our Northern locale); and Christmas, perhaps more believably, is our favorite holiday.

As such, we needed to get a few things straight around here. First, we set "A Charlie Brown Christmas" a'spinning. Next, we had to get our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. We trekked over a river and through the woods, past the furthest pastures on the farm. With our trusty bow saw in tow, we searched and searched for the wimpiest pine we could find. We found it, thanked it for all of the joy it would bring into our home and for all that it had provided in the forest, and cut it down. We hauled it back through the woods, back over the river, and up the farm road to our home; and when we got there, we found that our wimpy Charlie Brown Christmas tree was still too big for our space. We trimmed it's leggy limbs until it fit just right, snuggled between our two couches. But what to do with all of those fresh, fragrant pine branches on our cutting floor? Well, 'tis the season, indeed: and if a Christmas tree was our first priority, then Christmas cookies were next in line.

Seasonal adventures call for an adventurous seasonal recipe—and was this ever. The first step was to triple check that the Eastern Hemlock tree that we cut down was not the same poisonous hemlock used to carry out Socrates' death sentence way back when in ancient Greece. It isn't. Whew. From there, our task was a bit less daunting, but no less important: figure out a way to incorporate pine needles into cookies that doesn't feel like you're just eating pine needles. Thankfully, my favorite kitchen tools—the mortar & pestle—were up to the task when the food processor was not. Our (mis)adventures continued: we melted the butter when we meant to soften it, and we froze the dough solid when we'd only meant to firm it up before slicing it into cookie-rounds. Nevertheless, these shortbread cookies—baked in the dappled light of the setting December sun (which, in Vermont, means shortly after lunch)—somehow turned out just as we'd hoped. Mildly sweet and butter smooth with a flavor befitting of the season. O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How lovely are thy branches . . .


PINE NEEDLE SHORTBREAD
makes roughly two dozen cookies

STEPS
— preheat oven to 350
— strip pine needles and rosemary off branches
 — combine pine, rosemary, and sugar in mortar + crush with pestle until needles are fine
— in a large bowl, with a wooden spoon combine pine sugar mixture with butter, salt, and lemon
— slowly add flour to mixture, gently combining with your hands until a buttery dough ball forms
— divide dough in half and roll each into a log shape, then wrap with parchment paper and freeze for 15 minutes to firm up dough
— cut dough into small 1/2 inch thick rounds, and place 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper
— bake for 10 minutes, or until bottoms of shortbread are just barely golden
— let cool for 10 minutes before eating (if you're more patient than we were)

INGREDIENTS
1/4 c. pine needles (any edible variety; we used hemlock)
1/4 c. fresh rosemary
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. white sugar
2 tsp. lemon zest
pinch of salt
 


—M