The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth
Life here has become a complex mix of the past, present, and future. I'm not certain what this mix shall create of itself, nor do I even begin to understand it, but I am certain that
Like it very, very much.
An old and beloved book turned up yesterday. The winter bedroom had all but been abandoned since I lay sick in it for nearly a month early last winter. It has been approached, tentatively at that, three or four times in the past ten months. It was almost with relief that the lock on the door was found to be jammed shut for awhile requiring a screwdriver to pry it open. One less thing to serve to reproach me. After all, I could get into the room to clean it. But courage returns to me in small increments and I have been going in of late, a moment or two, here and there. Progress can be made in the smallest of efforts (as in the poor, long suffering, now much improved bathroom) and it is no longer as formidable an opponent, but merely a task needing to be addressed. I stripped the narrow cot where my dogs and I shall sleep this winter and there, underneath a tangle of blankets was The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth.
I first came across the book long before Greenleaf had even entered my imagination. It is a cookbook of sorts from the part of France that influences and mirrors the life here most deeply. Savoie. Oh, our winters are mild compared with those in the French Alps. But, none-the-less, it led me to Madeline Kamman's Savoie, shortly after I began to farm. Two women form the South Province, created an inn and restaurant in the mountains. Roy Andries de Groot wrote a book about them and their seasonal cooking, to which, by the way, it is now fashionable to give lip service in our country, and included a great number of their recipes.
In another life, in New York, I gave numerous dinner parties and prepared many of those dishes. Included were very good chocolates, and cigars for the men, linen napkins, and sometimes even nice wine glasses. Finding the book brought back many memories, but it also brought forward many ideas of things to cook this winter. Quite forgotten had been the Gậteau de la Savoie, that light as air simple cake that used to appear so often at my table.
I am cooking, of late, far more often than in recent years. And in many ways it is simply a development of an old way of doing things. Pickling condiments and vegetables has been a new addition to the classic French repertoire that has graced my table since I first learned to cook. It is in those dishes that I feel the past is integrated into the future. The cookbooks that I have been pouring over of late have also had my life in multicolored ribbons, memories of the days where they first arrived on my shelves, and of the meals for family and friends that came out of them. I didn't make the cheeses I wanted to this year, but the past dishes that have intrigued me over the years shall see themselves manifest this winter. I find myself becoming whole again, in ways I have never expected.
This afternoon I spent time with the sheep in a way that felt new as well. Five or six seem to be bagging. Others are becoming rather broad in the beam. None look imminent, however, and that is good. Burgo was introduced to them 147 days before December first. Therefore, some may freshen in a week or so. The barn is not ready, however, it is expected to be so soon. The restoration of electricity is most important. Building the new doors is the second priority. In the fullness of time it shall be hoed out as well. And all shall be well. Manure will be spread on my fields to aid spring growth. New pens shall hold the lambs and their dams. There already is water. More importantly, there has been a new introduction of hope.
The carriage house farm remains to have a great deal to be desired, however. The goats who live there have been trying, of late, to get out. And the donkey who is now living in there wants to join them. Or join the horses across the road. Today it proved to be a dangerous event just to try to bring in hay and water to the little ones. The Toggenburg buck, whom I am keeping, still has horns. They weren't removed in the spring because he was to have been sold for meat, as a matter of fact. In his eagerness to leave, or in his mother's (also sporting a formidable set of horns) one of them smashed me in the side of my knee. It stopped hurting soon enough, but I didn't know it would, and it certainly gave me pause to think I might be limping about for the rest of the day. Water shall be the issue there. It hasn't been addressed, let alone solved. I am tired of hauling water from the house. This is the third winter since the day I thought I'd never have to again. And there is no end in sight. The goats are looking well rounded. Thick coated and eyes gleaming. One seems to be bagging, however I am uncertain if she is bred or not. The Horned Dorset flock look good to me as well. However, there remains to be a lot of animals to water. Feeding is not the problem, water is.
The sky was lovely today when I visited the sheep in the barnyard. A faint iridescent mother-of-pearl grey reflected from the snow. The trees were the pencil black of December, faintly traced with white. The air was a warm 30 degrees. No wind today. I could walk easily among the flock, call in the errant ones. Let some of them come up to me. Watch the young ones lose their wild streak in gradual increments. As their aunts and mothers came close to me, or obey my commands. What is going on here? Who is she? Oh, we were at peace with one anther as they ate their dinner. Lambing shall begin soon. The sweet time. My barn shall become ready for us all over this coming month. Life shall be infused with new hope, even as it is becoming now, every day. I came in from the sheep to a house that was warm. A rare event, of late. To a kitchen whose reproaches have been systematically removed. To two dogs who love me. To a stack of cookbooks on my summer bedroom floor. To The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth on the kitchen table. I've rearranged the classic set up on the table for the first time in a very long time. It had my best beloved blue and white pottery and crockery on it. One day or night Nellie knocked the table down. One teapot broke into pieces. A jar of honey smashed over everything. I left the mess for a day or two. I couldn't stand it. Since then the table has sported what was necessary, but not what pleased my eye. Until today. It has a thick white damask tablecloth, heavily ironed on it. A pate plate with a dozen bright orange tangerines that my cousin Marilyn sent me. And an array of white dishes, pitchers, bowls, milk pitcher cows, coffee cups and café au lait bowls on it. It pleases my eye. It is the opposite of the blue and white that has covered the table for so long. This farmer has been the farm wife for a rare interlude. That interlude is almost over. Oh, I shall bake the butterless cake. And with any luck cook the venison leg tomorrow. And put up a little extra in the food department so there will be things to eat. I'm rearranging one of the bedrooms this week, and having the ____ brought in and hanging some curtains. But this most pleasant role is about to come to an end. And I shall become a shepherd again. But what I feel about it all is different. I am seeing my life and the life here with a sense of hope coupled with purpose that is new to me. The demands made have shifted emphasis. There is a measure of joy to fuel courage. And winter is approaching.
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