The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Mother’s May May 11, 2014

Mother’s Day never qualified as a ‘real’ holiday growing up in my family. My mother, whether being stoic, passive-aggressive, just plain honest or some mixture of the three always insisted that there was no need for such a day. “Every day is mother’s day” she’d say enigmatically, absolutely throwing me for a loop each time she did. But I never took her to task on it. I’m pretty sure we made her cards nonetheless. Even today I ended up making a bouquet for her and giving a small gift of a scarf – just because. We stopped in for a quick hello, because at this point in the game, how can we not? Now me, myself, I admit I don’t mind folks giving me some props and thanks for doing what I do – because I really do feel that my role is very important, and I feel that I do a pretty good job at it too. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous about it – but this is the most important job of my life, so a little respect from the world at large not such a bad idea. Nuff on that.

How about a couple of scrapbook entries to mark our day? I apologize if my photographic accounts are getting a bit too much or a bit tedious, but if it doesn’t get documented here, it doesn’t get documented anywhere. This is what my kid has to look back on someday. (Hope he feels more gratitude than regret when that time comes!) So thanks for bearing witness, and feel free to overlook this post entirely if you’ve had enough. Here’s hoping you mothers didn’t have to cook, clean or put things away today – unless you felt absolutely compelled to do so (I did).

IMG_2981These things are downright sexy, are they not? Good lookin yolks… And just think, this is how we all begin; as our mother’s eggs…

IMG_2989What’s better than yolks fresh from the farm? Bernaise sauce made from those fresh yolks! Here’s my made-to-order ‘deconstructed’ Eggs Benedict. This particular batch of Bernaise kicked ass. And it’s topped with fresh-cut chives from the garden. !!

IMG_2956Like clockwork – they first arrive here on Mother’s Day each year.

IMG_2991Next up, the chicks need to meet the great outdoors.

IMG_3005Still cute and fuzzy – but more than twice as big as they were two weeks ago.

IMG_3020Seriously guys? Ten open acres and you’re all hanging out in the porch? Sheesh.

IMG_3027The last glimpse of Saratoga Lake we’ll get ’til the leaves fall off the trees again.

IMG_3045Now we’re deep in the swampy area of my folks’ woods. Not easy getting around here. We were in search of a huge boulder Andrew and I would play on as kids – only difference is we came out here all those years ago in the wintertime when this was all one big sheet of ice. The ice made it much easier to get back here. After some searching, we didn’t find the rock, but we did find other sweet little diversions along the way…

IMG_3067Like the Marsh Marigold

IMG_3084And very few standing trees against an amazing, cloudless sky…

IMG_3093On the walk home we found what was left of a raccoon that had been at the side of the road for nearly a year.

IMG_3099Reminded us of a Dr. Seuss poem about ‘shin bone pinning’…

IMG_3102Having broken my neck once, I’m partial to this spinal remnant

IMG_3110Elihu gathers fiddleheads for our supper

IMG_3113Fuzzy wuzzy

IMG_3122This is the house where we Conants spent our summers (winter vacations too). Uncle Andrew now lives there.

IMG_3129With the shadow of the Old House to the right, Mom’s place is at the top of the driveway, and the Studio is on the left.

IMG_3132Elihu shows mom our bone treasures

IMG_3139Good old Annie, named so as she was found by my parents on their wedding anniversary, now many years ago.

IMG_3154Nothing like that salmon-pink of the flowering Quince

IMG_3160Just perfect.

IMG_3161Two kinds of ferns to avoid, and one kind to eat.

IMG_3167After some labor-intensive de-fuzzing, they’re ready to be boiled. Next they’re sauteed in butter, and served with a squeeze of lemon. If not cooked well enough they can cause some tummy problems (that’s the nicer way of saying they can be ‘slightly toxic’.)

IMG_3171Nothing toxic here, yet. (The possible threat – however miniscule – did inspire a couple of very entertaining death scenes at the dinner table.)

IMG_3176We’re done with our lovely day. After a call to the other grandma in Illinois, we settle in for a few more chapters of our favorite Springtime tradition of all – The Burgess Bird Book for Children. Good-night all!

 

Done November 20, 2013

Yesterday was one long day. When I awoke early, it was pitch black outside with a full moon in the western sky. The winds were so strong – and loud – that I opened the door to see if was just the wind and not a truck mistakenly roaring down my driveway. The dark, combined with the roaring winds, made me feel just a bit uneasy. A quick peek out the window showed the coop dark for the first time since the warmer months. Whether the heat bulb had burned out or the wind had somehow had a hand in it, it didn’t matter – the scene was eery. The timing, ironic. Not much freaks me out in my life these days, and I don’t fear for much, even if we do live a bit off the road. But for some reason, with the combination of darkness, violent weather, the full moon and the task at hand, I was not feeling my full confidence. But we had a date at 7:30 with the Amish farmer. On we went…

To make things even a bit more harsh, when I opened the door I noticed we’d had our first snow. Not much, but enough to cast a slight white over the frosty leaves. It was so cold, and I just wasn’t ready for it. We had work to do, and this would make it less pleasant still. I handled the boxes in thick gloves, but Elihu’s job required bare hands. His job was to vent the hens to find the non-layers. It was easy pickins; they were still on the roosting bars tucked up into fluffy breasts and resting when we entered. A couple of the new roosters insisted on crowing (very loud in such a small space) and it helped further my resolve in getting them gone. But getting Shirley Nelson? And Judson? He was named after my beloved home in Evanston. One of our first guys. And all the rest, too. Each had some story. Jessie was our very first-ever hatched chicken. Man, for me this was hard stuff. But Elihu honestly didn’t seem to feel the same. In fact, he was light hearted as he plucked the hens from the bars and checked their vents. “Nope” he said, brightly, “She’s a non-layer. Goodbye, Gabriella. Goodbye, Inca. Sorry girls. But thanks.” he handed them down to me, and I proceeded to shove them, protesting and squawking, into a box.

We took the longer but less winding road. We wanted to give them as stress-free a ride as possible. I got into the groove, and began to get myself mentally ready. About halfway through the thirty mile drive the car began to smell of fresh chicken poop, and it helped motivate me to stay the course. When we arrived at the farm, Ben was just starting up. He was in a good mood and amenable to my chat. I always had questions, and thankfully, he was happy to answer them. A lot had changed since my first visit to his place almost five years ago. I remembered the adrenaline that pumped through my system the first time. It was still a sad place, it still had me a bit on edge as I listened to the mad flapping of the protesting birds, the clack-clack-clack of their legs kicking against the metal cones as they bled out. Ich. I tried to be a professional farmer this time, I tried to keep my focus on our end goal here. I distracted myself by sharing some of our experiences with him. I laughed casually at the two of us from a few years back. I tried to act like this was nothing at all to me now. Like this stuff was natural to us, like we were now somehow peers of this man. As if. He commended us on how far we’d come, how much we’d learned. “Some folks come in here and kiss the birds one last time”, he laughed to me. “And some of em even cry.”  I just shook my head with him in shared amazement. Some people…

The birds came back home in the same boxes they left in. Only this time they were in plastic bags and covered in ice. As I hauled the boxes off to the car, I was impressed with how much heavier they seemed now. Of course they were almost all in one box, and there was the ice, but nonetheless they felt different. We all know the phenomenon of living weight being easier to lift, the animal in question – whether human or not – always helps out a bit. Whether it’s in the form of a struggle or a simple willingness to be lifted, the animation of life just seems to lessen the weight. Wow. It was a lot of bird. Let’s see, if we were walking away with over fifty pounds of chicken, we should be eating for quite a few months. If I could actually eat these guys. I wasn’t still convinced. Even after all this. Yeah, I was still a little sad, and this was harder than I’d thought it would be.

Just an hour ago I made peace with cutting up and roasting our first bird. I inspected the legs and saw the few feathers that were left were dark. Cora? Choco? Missy? Forget it. Just forget it, I told myself again and again. Keep going… Although these were all old birds, and they’d probably be better made into soup, I still wanted to try and see just how tender or tough these old birds were. I went online and watched a quick tutorial on cutting up a whole chicken. I sharpened my knife. And I began. Oh boy. Some of the goop inside was still there. And so too was a tract full of tiny, undeveloped eggs. Oh dear. What to do? I googled for answers but none came. Anyway, what exactly does one google for in this case? “Lungs and bits of intestine left inside chicken, ok to bake as is?” Yeeps. Ok, keep going. I fairly mangled this poor dear. All this progress, and now it comes to a clunky halt at the hands of the chef? Julia Child would freak out if she saw what I was doing to this poor bird! I did my best, however, and decided to make up for the lack of butchering skill with a tasty rub. I created an impromptu, Pakistani-inspired mix of spices, mixed it with butter (fat always improves things, doesn’t it?) and I spread the pieces in a pan. Rubbed and smothered them as best I could, put them in the oven and hoped for the best.

To be honest, I don’t know why it should freak me out that the tiny eggs were still there. Nor that some of the intestine was still there either. Really, I love chicken liver. And I eat their eggs. And the meat, of course. It’s all the same stuff really. Most important, there’s no poop here. That’s the only real potential problem I guess. My hope is that the smell of the roasting bird will help me overcome my ambivalence about dinner. And as I sit here now and write, that scent is now filling the house. While most often it’s a welcome thing, I cannot say that I’m feeling the same tonight. If only we hadn’t named them. If only the cavity had been entirely clean. If only. But what on earth am I whining about? Half of the world eats birds like this. I’m gonna guess not every cook in every corner of the world cleans the bird as perfectly as possible. And many a grandmother has wrung the neck of her own dinner.

I’m clearly still a beginner at all of this, and I have a long way to go til this feels completely right. I know unquestionably that this is the way to go, but there’s a lot of cultural stuff to overcome. My bird might be done soon, but it’ll take me just a little bit longer.