Cheese or A New Home?

There are no shortage of projects here at the farm. Every day there are the typical tasks such as milking the cows, bringing them to pasture, and weeding the vegetables gardens. Beyond that, there are always multiple ongoing projects that we decide between whenever we have a spare afternoon or weekend. Whether it’s working on extra farm jobs or spending time on personal goals, each member of our family seems to have a never-ending list of options. I’m sure most people can relate, whether you live on a farm or not!

The housing situation for each of the three families here at Fern Island Farm is currently undergoing major changes and represents a significant portion of the “extra projects” I’m talking about.  Last fall Fañch’s brother and his wife purchased a one-hundred year old farmhouse down the road and decided to completely redo it top to bottom. It had been redone in the 60s with questionable taste and quality of building materials so they want to return it to its original rustic character, uncovering the original stone walls and hardwood floors. My brother-in-law Julien has been using every spare moment to work on remodeling so that his growing family can move in by this fall.

Fañch’s parents also purchased a new home with the intention of redoing it and passing along their current farmhouse at Fern Island Farm to Fañch and I. The main farmhouse has been in Fañch’s family for five generations but the stones that make up the foundation date back centuries before that. However, before we can move in, his parents have to remodel their new home. It is a small and simple Breton penty whose owner had not done anything to update it since his parents lived there 100 years ago. Well okay, he did have two light bulbs put in and a hose spigot next to the stone fireplace where he cooked every meal in a large black pot over the fire. As you can see, despite the small size of the home the remodel job remains relatively extensive.

So, for the last year and a half while they have gone through plans with the architect and decided on how they want to move forward with the work on their home, Fañch and I have been living in a mobile home on the property (see previous post A New Year, A New Nest). Fañch will be doing much of the work on their home which makes for another large project tacked onto his ever growing list.

Finally, as most of you may know, my longterm goal here at the farm is to make cheese and other dairy products to sell to our customers at the market (see previous post The First Taste). In order to do this we need to construct a cheese-making lab complete with an aging room. Both the cheese project and the houses have been common themes of conversation here for the past two years but for an array of reasons are just now about to come to fruition.

We had originally planned to work on my in-laws home this summer and complete at least enough that they could move in this fall. We would be able to move into the main house just as Lewis was getting to crawling and walking age, allowing him more room than he will have in our tiny nest. That would leave the winter to build the cheese lab so that next spring and summer I would be able to start offering our dairy products alongside the vegetables.

Then the other day Fañch walked in and had on an expression that I know to mean he spent the morning obsessing over something. He clued me in pretty quick, “if you had to choose between having one thing done by next spring would it be the house or the cheese lab?” Ah, so it looked like our original timeline was unfeasible.

He could tell the question caught me off guard and smiled, I think we both knew all along that the farm had bitten off more than it could chew for 2017. So ultimately it came down to me deciding if I would rather prolong our stay in the tiny house with a rapidly growing baby or put my dairy project on the back burner. My immediate reaction was cheese can wait, we need more space. Then as I began to think it over I wasn’t sure if that was necessarily the case after all.

I know from experience that I need to contribute to what is happening around me, sitting back and watching everyone else pursue their passion just won’t cut it for me. Those first couple years here when I was still figuring out what I was going to do were some of the toughest of my life. I felt as though I were just treading water and not moving in any specific direction toward a more fulfilling livelihood. Of course, now I have a son to raise and staying at home to raise a child is the furthest thing from “treading water”, but I know that for me personally I need a job to pursue and work towards that is outside the family unit. So, cheese it is.

For now we are comfortable and happy in our little mobile home. Lewis can be playing in the living room and I can hear him from anywhere in the house. We have everything we need and all in a space that only takes 30 minutes to clean top to bottom. I have been able to work towards mastering my organizational skills and finding storage space in all kinds of places. We have put so much time and work into making our tiny home ours that in the end we aren’t as rushed to leave as we thought we might be. Though, if by next winter we truly feel as though it isn’t sufficient, we can always rent elsewhere while waiting for the main house to open up.

We feel confident that this will be the best option for everyone here at Fern Island Farm. Plus, even if there isn’t endless square footage for Lewis to crawl/walk/run around indoors, he still has plenty of acreage to get outside and become our little ragamuffin!

A few pictures of Lewis’ room:

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Cooking With The Seasons

Before moving on to a farm I never could have told you which vegetables were in season when. Except for corn. Being from the Midwest, one of the trademark signs of summer for me is spotting pick-up trucks, their beds holding mountains of ears of corn, parked in gas station parking lots. A wooden hand painted sign hung from the side of each truck bed: Sweet Corn 4 for $1. Beyond that, I, like most people, would go to the supermarket expecting to find whichever vegetables were on my shopping list. Tomatoes in December, leeks in June. Our society has grown accustomed to having what we want, when we want it.

Since my arrival on the farm I have been fortunate to have had nearly all my vegetables come from our very own gardens and greenhouses. My brother-in-law has spent the last few years creating his organic vegetable project and at every meal we reap the benefits. However, he sticks to the vegetables’ natural growing season so I quickly had to adjust how I approached cooking. In the end, I discovered that cooking with seasonal produce has a long list of positive attributes.

When we make the decision to center our cooking around seasonally available produce we enjoy better tasting food, we support more sustainable food practices, and we push ourselves to discover new flavors and recipes.

If you live in a colder climate and go to purchase a tomato in January take a moment to think about the journey that tomato took to arrive in your shopping cart. It most likely came from a place with a warmer climate, meaning it traveled quite a distance, the truck it was packed into emitting more carbon into the atmosphere. Otherwise it was grown in an artificially created climate such as a hothouse that relied on more energy consumption.

A locally grown in-season fruit or vegetable also has more nutrients and a better flavor than those grown out of season and shipped in from a far away place. When produce needs to travel before being consumed it is often harvested early. The food doesn’t ripen as it would have if left to its own devices, this can affect both the taste and the nutrient levels. Think about the difference between a perfectly ripe juicy apple that you picked at the orchard in October compared to one that was shipped in from a completely different time zone. Which would you rather use to bake grandma’s famous apple pie?

I will admit that living on a farm certainly makes accessing seasonal produce much more simple. But for those of you that would have to drive an hour to even spot a farm don’t fret. Try looking into local CSAs, they are a great way to receive local produce throughout the year and can encourage you to try vegetables you might not otherwise cook with. You can also visit food co-ops that tend to focus more on supporting local growers and supplying in-season fruit and veggies. And of course a trip to your local farmer’s market makes for a great Saturday morning outing. You can not only find baskets and baskets of mouth-watering produce but you can also get to know the person or family that grows your food!

For me, eating seasonal food has encouraged me to broaden my scope of recipes and taught me how to pair up flavors in order to valorise those seasonal veggies. In the winter we bake squash, we boil it, we steam it, we puree it and put it in pies, or mix it with garlic and use it as a sauce with pasta. Parsnips are mashed, mixed into soups, baked as fries in the oven. Beets are served raw or cooked, shredded or diced, mixed with feta or drizzled with vinaigrette. You get the idea! It may seem daunting to only stick to in-season vegetables but you quickly discover the versatility of veggies and the endless number of ways you can prepare them. Not to mention at the end of each season, when you can’t possibly think of another way to use a zucchini, the next season’s vegetables arrive and it’s feels like a seasonal holiday, right along with the solstice. Seeing those spring onions appear on the shelves or finally getting a taste of that fresh tender spinach makes the wait so worth it!

If you are looking for a good cookbook I highly recommend Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook. I received this book from a dear family friend who gifted me her very own copy for my bridal shower. It is an excellent book, organized by season, full of delicious recipes. At the beginning of each section is a list of the vegetables in season at that time of the year so you know what to look for while strolling through the produce aisle. Lately we have been loving her recipe for spinach pancakes so I have posted it below.

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Don’t be afraid to give seasonally cooking a try! Obviously no one is perfect and sometimes you just have to fulfill that craving for homemade salsa while the snow is falling outside! Though chances are, by focusing your produce grocery purchases on in-season products, you are going to discover many new dishes, flavors, and an appreciation for what the earth can offer us at every moment in the year.

Lewis

For the last week I have been able to sleep five or six hours straight each night. With all the renewed energy this has afforded me I am finally getting around to writing. And I have a lot to catch up on.

On March 13th we welcomed our son Lewis into the world. Afternoon sunlight streamed in through the blinds of the birthing suite, the sounds of Andrew Bird’s violin soared through the room from my meticulously planned playlist, and the midwife with her short cropped hair and infectious reassuring smile lifted the crying mauve-colored boy on to my chest.

Then things got a little complicated. I had not even counted his ten tiny toes and ten tiny fingers before Lewis and I had to be separated. The little red splotches covering his body that I had assumed were normal baby markings were actually small hemorrhages forming beneath the skin. The midwife, no longer smiling, had recognized these at once as the first sign of missing platelets.

Lewis had what is called Neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia (NAIT). Summed up, this means that due to an incompatibility between my platelet type and Fañch’s, Lewis’ platelet count at birth was only 5000. To put that number into perspective, a healthy level is between 150,000 and 400,000. This is why instead of having our two hours of skin-to-skin contact, Lewis and I were separated. Accompanied by Fañch, he was whisked off to get an ultrasound of his brain to check for a possible brain bleed caused from his passage through the birth canal.

Within an hour the midwife came back to update me. Lewis’ brain scan was clear. The first major hurdle was cleared. By that point he had been transferred up to the NICU and was going to receive his first transfusion of platelets.

By that evening the epidural had finally worn off and I was able to leave the confines of the birthing suite, pushed in a wheelchair by the midwife student who had assisted during the birth. We headed straight for the NICU.

It was quiet up in Lewis’ corner of the hospital. The lights were dimmed and the only noise was that of beeping monitors from his room and those around his. Fañch stood next to Lewis’ bed, staring down at his son through tired eyes. He looked up when she wheeled me in and gave me a small smile meant to reassure. Lewis was wearing nothing but a diaper, his gangly arms and legs sprawled out, with wires and tubes crisscrossing up and around towards the monitors and IV fluids. Fañch and I sat at his side all evening, staring at his little sleeping form, exchanging few words. Little by little Fañch filled me in on all that had happened after they left the birthing suite. It had not been easy for him to watch as they inserted IVs into Lewis’ hands and head, or to see him put through so many tests in those first hours of life. Talk about a crash course in some of the toughest parts of parenting.

In the days that followed we continued to spend nearly all of our time with Lewis in the NICU. The hardest part was at night when I would have to say goodnight and leave him to sleep in my own room on the maternity ward down the hall. It was a battle between feeling like I was abandoning him and being so overcome with exhaustion that I knew I had to get some sleep. The only thing that allowed me to leave at night was knowing he was being taken care of by the best nurses I have ever met in my life. The stellar NICU team felt like family by the end after having walked alongside us for every step during those ten days.

By the 10th day his platele count had reached 180k and the doctor informed us that we would be able to take Lewis home. Seeing her walk in the room, her smile giving away the good news before she had even spoken, I felt as though I had finally exhaled after holding in my breath for much too long.

During our hospital stay I had avoided looking online for information about NAIT. I did not want to read about worse case scenarios or success rates. I counted solely on the doctor, the intern, and NICU nurses to tell me what I needed to know. Seeing Lewis all hooked up and receiving transfusions was scary enough without the added stress of Google search results. Only afterwards, once he was in the clear, did I allow myself to read a little more about what he went through. And I am glad I waited. As my doctor told me afterwards, someone or something was looking out for Lewis that Monday afternoon in the sunny birthing suite. NAIT is rare, in the ten years she has been seeing patients my doctor has never come across a case. 1 in 3 babies born with NAIT either don’t make it through the childbirth due to a brain hemorrhage or they are permanently brain damaged. Upon hearing that we were even more thankful and in awe of our boy. That day could have turned out so differently and we are fortunate to have him in our arms today.

Now that that chapter of his life is over we have moved on to typical baby life. He eats (a lot!) and sleeps well. He has begun to smile in response to our smiles and our songs and the other day he even made what sounded like a laugh. He is a pretty serious little guy and observes all that is around him, often staring transfixed by faces and lights. In a couple days he will be two months old and we have begun dressing him in six month sizes already!

I will write more soon as I continue to figure out this thing called motherhood. Every day is a new adventure here at Fern Island Farm with our Lewis. Thank you to everyone that has supported us and encouraged us these last two months, especially during those difficult first days at the hospital. Lewis is lucky to have to many people that love him already from both sides of the Atlantic!

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