a lady, her farm, and her cake.

i present to you, lady mckenzie and her charming farm blog oliver and abrahams and her white cake.
a very fuzzy ipad photo of the last piece of white cake. eaten during a garden-planning morning hour.

mckenzie reached out to me through longest acres a couple of weeks ago, i in turn visited her at oliver and abrahams and we have been emailing back and forth ever since. meeting other farm/blogg women has a much coveted Small World feeling to it. to expand my farming community through this avenue makes me feel less overwhelmed, less alone in this life choice.  just like meeting louisa through icelandic butterflies. i can talk to them, gripe to them, complain to them, ask questions of them in ways that i cannot with even my closest friends and family. they understand the intricacies of farm life that nobody else could understand, no matter how best i try to describe them. and so, i am so very grateful for such women in my life. i hope some day i am able to visit mckenzie at her farm, and she at mine. but for now, i....we...must be content with her beautiful blog. 

mckenzie answered my Call for Cakes last week with at 1964 joy of cooking recipe known as the "white cake".

the joy of cooking writes:

"This recipe is amazing in that it can be multiplied by 8 and still give as good a result as when made in the smaller quantity below... We once saw a wedding cake made from this recipe which contained 130 eggs and was big enough to serve 400 guests. This formula is also the classic base for the Lady Baltimore Cake which in the Good Old Days, 5 layers were considered none too many."

mckenzie writes:

"Recipe calls for three 8 inch round pans (though I split it between two larger ones) preheat oven to 375 f
  1. have all ingredients about 75 f (very precise, but whatever. room temperature is fine)
  2. sift 3 1/2 cups cake flour with 4 tsp double acting baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt
  3. sift 2 cups sugar
  4. cream 1 cup butter
  5. Add the sifted sugar to the butter gradually and continue creaming until very light. Add the flour mixture to the batter mixture in 3 parts, alternately, with thirds of 1 cup whole milk.
  6. Stir the batter until smooth after each addition.
  7. Beat in 1 tsp vanilla (I also used a couple tsp of almond extract, which I think made it much more awesome).
  8. Whip 7 or 8 egg whites until stiff, but not dry.
  9. Fold them lightly into the cake batter.
  10. Bake in greased and floured pans for about 25 minutes, or until done.
For icing, I kind of improvise. I cream about two sticks of room temperature butter (unsalted) and slowly add powdered sugar until its the consistency I like. usually this takes one full bag. Makes a lot of icing, but we have lots of invading fingers around here... I also add a couple tablespoons of whole milk while mixing in the sugar. Then I add a few splashes of vanilla and almond extract. Until it's good, basically. "

it was scrumptious. i made just one layer as we are not in the position to be throwing 7-8 eggs into one cake. neither are we in the position to be eating multiple layer cakes.  but it was good even in its smaller self.  nick sat down and, bless him, said that it was a good 'every day' kind of cake. i suppose he is ready for the year of cakes. 

all photos, save the last of the cake, are from mckenzie's blog


on the subject of cake. and pigs.

thank you. for the recipes. i have received so many beautiful recipes and stories that my only trouble now is finding order to them. which to bake when. i have chosen a white cake from 1964 for my first. i baked it today. and have already eaten too much of it. photos to follow next week. 

if you still have a cake recipe and a story and any accompanying photos you would want to share please send it to my email kathryn.maclean@gmail.com

now to leave you with several photos of great pigs from our north carolina days inspired by the poem the fable of the great sow by john kinsella that was in this past week's new yorker. (thank you, mom) and by the kickstarter campaign we are helping to back this week found here
all photos from nick


a study of the non sequitur. and a plea for cakes.

four days of snow on the ground and i find myself yearning for spring. how simple humans can be....immediately wanting what they think they cannot have. i was looking though printed photos this morning of the sun drenched days of north carolina and i thought i'd share a handful with you. today is calling for the high of 47 today. it appears my spring fever has caught fire. bostonians are practically naked in the streets in celebration.

i got out of bed twice last night. once at 11:30 and then again at 12:20. both to put on my boots, throw a woolen jacket over my nightgown and drive, frazzle-eyed the 1.2 miles to the farm. such are the worry demons that plague me. we had to put bella in the barn last night as she had caught a cold with the drop in weather. there is, too, a small group of young chickens in the barn that have proven to lack winter-hardiness. there is one heat lamp and one space heater to keep them toasty. and though we have taken the precautions to prevent a barn fire these have done little to assuage the feelings of dread that strike me mid-night. with our darling bella locked in a barn filled with fire hazard there was little i could do to stop my sleepless self from checking on her. twice.

i'm behind on my resolution of a weekly cake-baking. i'm one and half cakes behind, precisely. i need your help.  i fear it is at risk of falling to the Lost Resolutions just like any other i have made. i find myself without inspiration only 2 cakes in. i cannot just blindly bake a cake from a recipe pulled from a faceless book. i want a story behind the cake. i want to make cakes that are tried, true, and proven to be scrumptious and fattening. how admittedly lazy of me. so i ask those of you who read this far in my ramblings if you wouldn't have a cake recipe to share with me? if you do i would love to bake it. and share it with nick and perhaps, if it is ok with you, share the recipe and a bit about you along with it, here on this blog of mine. it could be a rather nice way, to get to meet you and your trusted cakes. and would give us a bit of escape from the tired farm tirades we know too well. if you are game to help this failing resolution from its near certain death please email me at kathryn.maclean@gmail.com.

and finally, i watched the 7 hours of the first season of downton abbey between sunday and monday. what a thrilling life i lead. now i am caught up and ready to devour season two. i highly recommend if you haven't yet indulged.


le cochonnet et le coq

the following is a murder mystery based upon true events on sawyer farm. it was originally written in french but was translated by k.m.maclean this past fall and given to Mother as a birthday Handmade gift --the only kind a farmer can afford. it is today submitted to the To Know a Chicken series that i have decided to bore you all with this snow-less january.

the contents are gruesome. the story remains unsolved.  

the day began like any other on sawyer farm. the pigs were thrown their slop. the cows brought down for a morning’s milking. the kittens were harassed by cuddling humans. the dogs were neglected.

and like any other blasted morning the chickens were let, out of their coop, and into the great wild world of the Barnyard. the usual feather gossiping ensued. eggs were laid. a great deal of pelletized feed was consumed. it would be just another partly cloudy, low humidity, high of 67 degree day. for all. save one.

mr. bardrock no. 001 was extraordinary in life only for his twin-hood --brother and doppelganger to mr. bardrock no. 002-- and for his inadvertent life membership to a tiny and decidedly un-fraternal club of roosters of sawyer farm.

it is not my pleasure to speak ill of the deceased but he was, for all immediate rooster purposes, an unremarkable one. bringing little to his assigned post but the minimum.

to be just, as i fear i am being uncommonly cruel --he was a young lad of but a year. with the exception of his equally unexceptional but slightly more capable (or perhaps just more fortunate) brother no. 002, no. 001 had little mentor-ship in his quick life. his life, one might say, was utterly void of a developed and healthy protegé/proteger relationship. so it is unfair to judge so harshly a rooster who merely worked with what he was given.

with this void of rooster leadership it came to be that the older, more devilishly handsome veteran rooster, smuggled North across many state lines from the carolinas found an opening for Top Rooster at sawyer farm.

petit monsieur. little mister.  you must forgive such a misleading prefix as 'little'. for he was only petit in relation to his predecessor. monsieur original who was of french descent and a formidable creature in girth, height, and charisma. 
petit monsieur
it was soon discovered that petit monsieur was well named. fitting in the proverbial chicken feet of his ancestor with the grace and humility he was known for. his talons could fight off a shark should shark ever swim in the nearby creeks and ponds. his floppy beet-red comb covered one eye giving the air of a madhatter. he ordered a harem of over 50 hens. he could bench-press both milking cows, princess and hemlock. he donated 80% of his quarterly profits to charity in 2010. he was a great guy. the sort that everyone wants to be seated next to at dinner. the sort you would always want on your side. the sort you'd never want to see at the wrong end of a broken bottle in a bar fight....or the wrong end of a talon as may be the case...

i digress.

because i don't wish to persuade the jury. because there is a piggy in this sordid affair too. a little one named rose. and its unclear if roosters and pigs work best alone or together. 
rose had a tough run with the transition from South to North. she had been the round pink squealing apple of her mama's eye in carolina. spending the better part of each sun filled day with her tummy rubbed. freshly bathed. fretted upon. newly rotten watermelons in her trough. carolina and mama were good to her. she and life were good.

something changed with the move. her dotting mama went on holiday. she was thrust into a farm life to which she had never been accustomed. general slop in lieu of hand foraged garden goods. four poorly mannered goats now shared her quarters. the chicken population had increased tenfold. every single tenant of the sawyer barnyard was her direct competition for food and compassion.

growing up and being fed with the ever elusive silver spoon this change of scenery took rose by an unpleasant surprise. the surprise grew to discontent. which swelled to anger. which boiled up to revenge. which was constantly coupled by a gnawing hunger...which....is it possible?... culminated in murder?

let us return to mr. no. 001. the protagonist fop of our short tale. expected duties of a rooster at sawyer farm follow standard expectations nation wide. morning wake up. hawk patrol. meal calls. egg fertilizing. a monkey could do a rooster's job if these standards were all that made a rooster a Rooster. but a good rooster...one that removes himself from the monkeys of the world...he rises before the sun. hours before. to ensure everyone gets an earliest start possible to the day. he seeks out perches in the barnyard from where he surveys the sky with one eye. he follows human and pig patterns throughout their day waiting for the drop of a half chewed apple or a splash of fresh cream on its way to becoming butter. he calls a subtle mumble known only to his harem, and they come running.

mr. no. 001's heart mustn’t have been in this gig. maybe he imagined himself more as a bigfishsmallpond backyard operator. one who had a more manageable gaggle of hens. one who wasn't expected to arise at a certain hour, or at all.

but the facts were these: mr. no. 001's last morning would be the one of september 15, 2011. he would eek out his last crow that pinkly blue painted morn. he would grab a small beak's worth of pelletized barley. and then he would take just a short jog around the coops immediate surroundings. reaching no further than the southwest corner.

that is where his body was found. time of death unclear but the humans were certain that it happened somewhere between 08h17 and 09h06 that morning. during milking. for as the milking girls were being led out, after giving their wondrous gift of milk to the Undeserving, mr. no. 001 was found. dead. headless. little rose pig standing atop with one foot upon his limp body. her mouth and surrounding whiskers bloody. his head gone. petit monsieur standing quietly nearby --with the most inconspicuous of limps. and, to only the discerning eye, a glimmer of the softest down feather stuck to the bottom his left talon. black and grey in color. bardrock markings.

but again, i am getting ahead of myself...

...it is vital to understand the mental state of both our suspects to determine what happened to mr. no. 001.

mr. no. 001's petulant approach to his post brought shame to the House of Petit Monsieur. for a man who took such intense pride in his work. mr. no. 001 made an unwelcome mockery of the crown. sloth, cowardice, insubordination. it made petit monsieur sick to his noble gizzard to think of the meekness with which no. 001 patrolled his kingdom.

he couldn't afford such poor representation of a rooster in his flock. he couldn't stand to see no. 001's girls wandering the yard with no certain direction. but could pride and honor to the Flock be motive enough for murder? could it possibly be that the rooster-man the entire barnyard envied, loved, confided in, be capable of such cold blooded violence?

and on the other Side of Things...rose had been quite the hungry duckling that afternoon. the day before had...not gone well. her older brother, van gogh, was growing to hulking proportions and at a cost to rose. she had learned to grab 3 apples at a time in her mouth and run away from van gogh every time  humans dropped them their feed. but the ingenious method had nearly cost her her life when she briefly chocked on the penultimate pomme that morning. she worried continuously about her next meal and how to pry it out of the strong jaws of her brother. she started to develop an angry twitch of both the head and vocal cords whenever her eyes caught a shadow moving upon her. food was her raison d'etre. and concocting innovative ways all the day long to collect this food was a tiring endeavor for such a little girl.

and so one couldn't help but wonder...did mr. no. 001, overcome with ennui and insubordination go down for a mid morning nap al fresco? and did a certain ravenous rose-pig come upon the slumbering bird and mistake him for a post-breakfast snack?

or was it petit monsieur that decided thursday morning would be a TCB kind-of-a-day and issue one swift cold blow to the Unsuspecting's head? and then did he call upon his ever hungry carolina colleague to destroy the remains of that grim morning?

the humans don't know.

van gogh, the four goats, and the milking cows all remain unsure.

there are only three barnyard beings that could tell you in lucid detail what happened that day. one of whom is dead. the other two ... the other two are a pig and a rooster. one speaks a broken franglais. the other just wants to know if you have any leads on apples and whey.



the exploratory committee goes to vermont

it is no secret that nick and i want land of our own. we want a modest amount of land. maybe 50 acres. we would take more if you were offering. we want to have four milking cows on this land. a sow or two and a big but gentle boar to accompany them. we want a flock of sheep. maybe 20. to keep for lamb. we want goats....for clearing the woods. and of course have chickens.  a small population of ducks for pascal to boss around. we want a healthy...but not creepy...population of barn cats. and we wants lots and lots of dogs. dogs for guarding. dogs for herding. and dogs for snuggling indoors on couches. we want a small home. that can fit us. and bottle-animals. and someday human babies. we want a barn that won't blow over in a storm. that won't bust at the roof from too much snow. we want our families to be at the farm. to visit the farm with great frequency.  to live at the farm. to party at the farm. to work at the farm.  we want friends to come live with us and farm vegetables on this land (which we seemingly cannot do). we want our farm to be its own micro universe. producing all the food and all of the joy so that we don't need to leave our farm with great frequency.  that probably sounds like a lot of wanting. that is a lot of wanting. especially because right now we have the skeleton of that Want. we have borrowed land. we're raising 200 chickens that aren't ours. we have 2 pigs. we have 1 cow. we have 1 duck. we have 16 chickens (a dwindling number, thanks to madame fox). we have 1 snuggling indoor dog and 0 useful farm dogs. we have no kitties. we have a subterranean apt with no light and no real sense of welcoming.

i know we have to be patient. our land, our farm, will not be handed to us by any silver vehicle. she will find us someday but we will have to work for her. we will have to struggle through various farm jobs. we will have to hire the services of Scrimp and Save and make sacrifices in our personal and social worlds in the name of the Future Farm. we will have to grow our little farm family slowly and surely and methodically.

but it is always fun to day dream. and so this weekend we spent time in the state in which we hope to build this home and farm. way up in the hills of cold, snowy, windy, no-cell reception, no high speed internet vermont. we spent three glorious days waking up late. visiting farmers. visiting friends. getting kombucha instructions. eating cake (THANK you julie for that insanely buttery cake recipe) walking goats. eating caramels. drinking whiskey. talking and talking. reading. playing with dogs. avoiding snow drifts. three days getting a glimpse of the life we hope to someday make. giving us strength and hope and new fears about our future as farmers.


to know a rooster

nick killed red hawk wednesday night. red hawk is...was...a rooster. not a hawk. but he had hawkish tendencies since he was a wee thing. he always jumped about like a zealous, unsteady, ninja. as though life was too exciting and scary and fun.  he was one of five little chicks that our mama hen raised in north carolina. he looked awkward at first. most young roosters look awkward before they gain that dignified pomp.  so, red hawk, was awkward. much taller than his sisters. with sickeningly bright yellow chicken legs.

the first time red hawk crowed nick and i were there to see it. it was just morning in massachusetts and we had let the chickens out. involuntarily this prepubescent crow spilled out of red hawk. it startled him. he jumped. as he was prone to jump with any unexpected noise or motion. his own squeaky roar...had scared him. it was oddly adorable and simultaneously embarrassing. watching this little chicken enter into roosterhood.

rather unfortunately, for all involved, the crow was just the start to red hawk becoming a Rooster. next came the mounting. it was...natural, as is with any animal's instinct to breed and red hawk took to this instinct with an appaling vigor. but you see...nick and i weren't the only ones that thought red hawk's feet too yellow or his crow too unsure or his bounciness too distracting. the hens, for the most part, did not take kindly to his mounting. and it became clear that there was little that was consenual occuring between red hawk and the hens. 

monsieur, we know as a fierce rooster, who runs a Tight Ship, was very clearly going to kill red hawk. ((if you aren't familiar with monsieur's murderous ways, stay tuned for next week's installment of: To Know a Chicken.)) he spent most mornings, afternoons, and evenings of the past weeks chasing the poor bird all round. there are standards in the chicken world of what makes a good rooster. and it is my saddened duty to say that red hawk did not have It. 

he was sentenced to death repeatedly by nick in the week preceding last. every morning nick would tell me; i'm going to kill that chicken.  he didn't mean it in the exasperated, figurative way most would have meant it. he meant that he needed to kill red hawk. before he broke one of the hen's legs or backs with his vigor. before monsieur mangled him. before he inadvertently hurt one of the baby chicks in his frenzied way.

and so, wednesday night, nick killed red hawk. he and our fearless friend brian went out into the dark of night took red hawk and another noname rooster --whose history is just as important though unknown-- and slaughtered the poor beasts. 

at first i was distraught. it should come as no surprise that i, without apology,  anthropomorphize every barnyard being and thus take each bump, bruise, and death, without ease or grace.

then i was greedy. i asked nick why he hadn't saved red hawks tail feathers as they were so handsome. 
then i was hungry. and had some rooster stew. 

and now i am grateful. grateful for having a partner who can remove his feelings from the barnyard and make difficult choices based on what is Best for the Whole. grateful for red hawk. for giving us our first taste of chicken in nearly 6 months. grateful for our whole little barnyard circle of life and death.


a 24 hour span with my love.

i am thankful for a lot in this life. but i have been feeling most acutely thankful for the days i get to see nick. we have both been so busy; i with the farm store and he with the farm chores that our paths so rarely cross. the other day i referred to our home as nick's house. as in i'm going to try to stay at nick's house tomorrow night. yikes. but we got to see each other yesterday. which was really nice. all day. we started with chores together and then a breakfast of eggs. we went to a friend's farm for chicken-talk and tea and biscuits. we had a lunch of crappy store-bought soup in the car. we argued over who had eaten more of louisa's caramels. we strolled a nearby sculpture garden and felt very highbrow about our day off. so this was our 24 hours together. told through the ever un-vibrant, un-clear, lens of the iphone. 


45 seconds of pascal


as i told you last week, i wanted to take time to introduce you to the stars of our chicken crew. i thought, what better way to start such a segment off, than with the duck of the chicken crew. 

as you or he may or may not know, pascal is a duck. he was born a duck rather. but has been raised a chicken. this is not some sick livestock-psychology experimentation but rather what happens on any self respecting Hodge-Podge farm. animals get mixed. a cow spends her days with the pigs. a cat spends his mornings sitting on a clutch of eggs. and a duck gets thrown in with the chickens for lack of other ducks. 

to read all about the story of pascal's birth and best-chicken-friend, florence and her untimely death you can visit here.

now pascal is a grown man. or woman. we aren't actually sure. it isn't that sexing a duck is complicated. you can tell from their tail feathers. or from their quack. or from their plumage. but for whatever reason we haven't cared to really know. pascal is pascal. he is neither he nor she. neither duck nor chicken. pascal is pascal. (but for simplicity, as this wish-wash could get rather old, i will refer to him as a duck and with the use of masculine pronouns).

i've wondered ever since he and florence lived in the house as little duckling and chick what he has thought of his existence. he learned to cheap before he could quack. he has been designated as Sentry of the Chickens for bedtime. he stands guard at their door til dusk. he cannot perch. he cannot dust bathe. but he sleeps in a nest box, keeping the eggs toasty through the night. he waddles around the chicken yard following his troop. quacking grumpily at the smaller chicks. taking 'swims' in the 3 gallon horse bucket we fill for him. 

we're thinking of finally determining pascal's gender and getting him...or her....a mate. eventually we want a pond for them as it is cruel and disgusting (the poop!) to withhold water from waterfowl. 

but for now pascal will continue to exist as he as always done. as one of the gang. i will continue to snuggle his soft downy chest anytime he makes the mistake of waddling into my arm's reach. and our chickens will continue to be grateful for the funny looking bird that keeps the night watch. 

so now you have met pascal.
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