Americans have got the concepts of feast and famine all wrong. I’m reading a new-to-me cookbook, European Festival Food by Elisabeth Luard (republished as Seasonal European Dishes but I’ve got the older edition). A major theme is the rhythm of fast and feast, externally dictated by the liturgical calendar, but driven by nature’s immutable cycles. The fast precedes the feast, the labor before the festival. What do we do? We feast like fools from Thanksgiving to New Years Eve, then go on a national diet of contrition, imported celery and “scientific” fads that end in spectacular failure and shame. At least Lent or Ramadan has a defined end point and a celebration to look forward to.
We feasted well at the homestead this year. Turkey breast, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, all raised here. It would have been our green beans, but I took the wrong package out of the freezer and we had Costco asparagus I had frozen when it was in season instead. (The consequence of breaking an important homesteader’s rule: label everything, no matter how sure you are you’ll remember. You won’t.) I made a pie out of a Burgess buttercup squash, the one winter squash that we seem able to grow in quantity. The dark meat of the turkey went into a mole I have been making since 1992, when I found the recipe in a Texas Monthly article on what my first star chef hero Robert del Grande would serve if his family let him cook on Thanksgiving Day.
Husbandry and gardening: It has been ridiculously, unseasonably warm here. If we still had access to the irrigation system, we would water the trees. But we do not. R has been using the time well to put a coat of white paint on the trunks of our trees and to trim back the grasses around their bases. Now that the turkeys are out of the orchard, the dogs are having a wonderful time romping while R works—Wyatt has paint INSIDE his ears.
After Sunday’s harvest, I can report that six geese are a lot quieter than nine; one male is more harmonious in the flock than two.
Food, harvest and preserving: The weather pretty much decided the timing of our turkey harvest, which resulting in seven days of aging on the turkey meat we cooked on Thanksgiving. I think we accidentally hit on something successful, because the flavor and texture were excellent. Our aging method is primitive: put the vacuum-packed meat in a cooler and dump ice on it.
We reloaded the cooler with goose meat, except the gizzards (corned and slow-cooked for 24 hours) and the liver (paté flavored with Calvados instead of brandy). R smoked the wings, which we will use as a substitute for ham hocks while cooking beans this winter. The rest of the meat is a project for the coming week.
I restocked the freezer with cornbread dressing and leftover mole sauce to make some quick meals later this winter. The rest of the holiday leftovers are gone, just about the time I started hankering for anything other than poultry.
Finances: We have two bills that come before all others: the property tax bill and the irrigation company assessment. If you are late on the property taxes, your name gets published in the paper. If you are late on the water assessment, someone else can scoop up your water rights. We set the money aside every year, but I am always anxious until I get the bills paid, for fear I will forget somehow. Disaster averted this week for 2017.
Community: We joined some friends on Friday for an amazing Alaskan crab feast. I was bludgeoned with crab.
Creativity and recreation: It’s a good thing cooking is fun.
Next week: We are closing up our apartment in Salt Lake City next weekend, doing some shopping and seeing friends. There might even be some cocktail attire involved.
Seasonal observations: Winter hawks and migration stragglers show up regularly now. R saw a peregrine checking out the barnyard, I spotted a rough-legged hawk over the orchard. The deer in town are becoming brazen, ambling across the highway in the middle of the day and having out in yards.
A few Christmas trees, strapped to the tops of trucks and SUVs and sporting green Forest Service tree-cutting permits, passed through town over the weekend. So did a truck carrying a fully assembled trampoline with safety netting, held down by some of the most excited looking kids in the world. Santa must have come early, driving a faded white pick-up.