Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Farmer Tells his Tale and a Recipe for Goat Cheese Pesto Bread

The Farmer's Tale

So Mrs. Farmer has asked me to participate in her blog and so here we go....

Waking up as a Farmer.....such an unlikely career choice for a Jew from Manhattan. How did it happen?  As is true for all of us, life is often times challenging. Circumstances intervene and paths taken, or roads wandered, are inexorably altered. When these Momentous Events cascade into our way how do we respond? Do we rise to the occasion? Do we succumb and bemoan our fate, letting life's undertow take us and deposit us headlong into the maelstrom of tidal whirlpools ?  Hard to tell and hard to know until that day comes knocking at your door..

For me, I was busy and financially successful, going to work each day developing and building Lowe's, Walmart's, Targets, McDonald's, Burger Kings, etc... etc...I seemed to be pretty darn good at it! I was taking in a seven figure income and building up an eight figure net worth.  I accumulated a bevy of goodies....eight cars, three houses and untold amounts of STUFF...... EXPENSIVE STUFF!!!   But then along came one of those aforementioned Momentous Event:  The Great Recession of 2007/2008.  Funny thing was I had nothing to do with that darn cataclysmic event. I was just chugging along minding my own business but in the blink of an eye...voila....  no more income...  a minus eight figure net worth and a heap of troubles on the horizon... What was a fella to do???  Beats me...

I owed a whole lot of money to a whole lot of banks. The banks wanted to get all of their millions of dollars back so the first thing that happened was the bank that held the two and one half million dollars in mortgages on the three homes asked me if I'd like to keep one of the houses (I suspect it was better for them if they could find me and it seemed like a good idea to me :-)  So which house to pick? I chose the Fancy Little Designer Farm in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. I figured that if was going to be poor at least I should learn to feed myself... so that's exactly what I did.  I decided to learn to grow and produce food!
By a bit of luck and more than a bit of divine intervention, I met some Mennonite and Amish farmers who welcomed me into the world. Each day I would religiously drive out their way;  partaking in their lives of labor and on Sunday, a hard bench seat in church (an odd place for a New York City Jewish guy to end up).  And what did I learn? I learned how to grow food, raise animals and take care of myself in a way I had never been able to imagine .  I learned a bit about God and a spiritual life. It was the beginnings of learning to be a farmer.

Slowly, but steadily, I became self reliant, self sufficient and self sustaining. There were some amazing and unexpected changes along the way. I realized that I was becoming a different man, a more peaceful man.  Quietly, a small glimmer of a light began to take form in my being and I realized that for the very first time in my life I was rich.  I was rich in a way I never knew existed.  I didn't have two nickels to rub together but it turned out for me, money wasn't what made me rich. What made me rich was peace, contentment, a strong spiritual faith, a sense of purpose and a life well lived rather than a life of living well.  

Slowly but surely all the STUFF started to disappear...repossessed or sold to pay bills until one day all that was left was that Fancy Designer Farm.  And what of that fancy farm?  I remember how often folks would come through the front door and express in glowing terms how beautiful the house was.. The lawns were no longer well manicured, the trees overgrown, and the creek beds gone wild, but the house still had a stately beauty and elegance that couldn't be denied.  All of the farming aspects, the gardens and animals were quietly tucked out of view so as not to disturb the aesthetic congruity of the Fancy Neighborhood.  While surely it was a house and a grand house at that,was it really a farm and a home?
It turns out for me it was just a house. The nascent farmer was living in a house but desiring a farm. The act of coming through the front door became an uncomfortable and strange ritual and day by day it felt more and more that I was living in someone else's house. I'd look at Pat and ask if it felt like home to her She would simply shake her head. We didn't belong in that fancy house growing $3 carrots on land that sold for $30,000 an acre! We couldn't afford to leave and we couldn't afford to stay. Quite the conundrum!

One day a lovely woman showed up and asked if I would be interested in selling the house? Keep in mind the house wasn't listed for sale....more divine intervention?  I jumped at the opportunity, despite selling for about $500,000 less than I had paid. It was enough to pay off the mortgage, the mountain of gathering of bills and get me on the road to finding where I really belonged.

I dug into the work of finding my future home with frenetic gusto because the new owner want us OUT quickly.  I looked at hundreds and hundreds of farms.  They were too big, too small, no water, no barn, no fencing, too expensive, too far away... too, too and too..... Eventually I found our farm.  It was seventy miles down the road and had been for sale for four years just waiting for us  -  another tinch of divine intervention?...It surely seems so and we are grateful!
Sixty Five acres of rolling hills with a simple old farm house, a few rickety barn buildings, some worn and tattered fencing and a never ending laundry list of chores and challenges in order to bring the farm around to being a good sound working farm and a refuge for all of the animals we steward. But its my farm and our farm and as such it is perfect!! My farm, my home and my life!!! What an amazing gift to share! I'm thankful for the gift of it.
I love walking through the front door.  I never get tired of looking at the simple plywood floors, the 100 year old wood on the walls with all its perfect imperfections. I love the wood cook stove and the incredible soul warming heat it provides from the split oak wood piled in its belly. The Amish rockers strategically placed to enjoy the warmth  of the cook stove while I fall asleep at the end of dinner having finished evening farm chores. And somehow, when the weather is its fiercest, and I slog through evening chores getting feed and water to all the various barn residents, the simple act of sitting by the wood stove is heightened and I'm not sure there is a greater, simpler pleasure in life. 

 Now I am a Farmer..I have a life that is far bigger then my needs.  Pat and I care for hundreds of others.  Our sheep, goats, cows, chickens, hogs, horse, dogs and whatever else roams into our world. No matter what, no matter if its convenient, I'm too tired, I'm grouchy, or the day hasn't gone well.  Whether I'm sick or want to get a night out... no matter what.... the needs of the farm come first and foremost.  I am a Farmer.
Oh and by the way a sidebar thought.... a funny  thing happened along the way: When I had a bunch of money I would sometimes like to think of all the things I had bought and owned.,,"owned" being a term of art when there are loans and mortgages attached to those possessions.   But sitting at my farm, in my home, I had the stunning realization that for the very first time I did actually own something!! A small little house with no mortgage and two old trucks with no payments... Hmmmmmm.... Life sure is funny....
Sorry can't help myself... one quick little diddy before I head out to feed the animals..... One day early in my walk towards a simpler life I was  talking to an Amish fellow and going on and on, waxing enthusiastically about how much I admired their simple life and how I longed and yearned for it.  The nice Amish fellow waited patiently till I exhausted the topic and myself and then quietly said “simple life” I think you're mistaken”.  “Our life isn't simple...yours is.”  You go home and flip a switch and you have light. In your home you turn up the thermostat and you have heat.”  “In your home you turn a dial on the oven and you cook.”  We need to get a lamp lit and then haul in split wood to stoke up the wood cook stove for our heat and to to cook our meals.  “You turn a valve and have hot water - not us.”  Now I heat with wood and cook on the wood stove.  We have oil lamps.  The Amish fellow was right.  It's definitely not as simple as flipping a switch or turning a dial but I wouldn't change it for all the tea in China!!!!

This bread is a decadent treat!  It is easy to make and works well as a stand alone appetizer.  A friend recently referred to it as "life changing".  I am not sure about THAT, but it sure is tasty!

The basic bread recipe is a slight adaptation from the Olive Oil Bread Recipe found in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francis.  I got this book when it was first published almost a decade ago and it quickly became a favorite.  There is no need to be intimidated by bread baking with this as your guide and I have not bought a loaf of bread in years.  It is so much nicer to have freshly baked bread in the house!  I generally have plenty of goat cheese around and there is always Pesto in my freezer, but store bought will work just fine if you don't have access to fresh goat cheese or home made Pesto.

It is helpful to have an electric mixer for this recipe.  I just add the following ingredients to the mixing bowl:
6 1/2 to 7 cups of All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Active Yeast (NOT instant)
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Sugat or Honey
1/2 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2  3/4 Cups of Lukewarm Water

Mix everything on Medium Low just until the ingredients are well integrated and there is no flour stuck to the bottom of the bowl.  I have found that if I mix it for too long or at too high a speed the dough becomes too loose and loses elasticity.  I like the dough to be somewhat "tight" so that a finger pressed into it will leave a dent but not get covered with sticky dough.  If it is too sticky just add a bit more flour.

Place the dough into a plastic container (I used the plastic shoe boxes that sell for a dollar at WalMart) and sit it on a counter and forget about it for a while.  Once the dough has risen to touch the lid, put it in the refrigerator.  It will be easier to roll if it is chilled and will remain viable in the Fridge for a week.  The recipe is enough to make two loaves like the one pictured.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Take out the Box O' Bread and divide it in half to make one loaf.  The remainder of the dough can be used to make another loaf of bread, a pizza or flat bread later in the week. Put the dough on a generously floured surface and sprinkle the top with a bit of flour.

Roll the dough out into a rectangle shape.  I tend to roll it rather thin as I want to see lots of Cheesey Pesto Swirls when I cut into it. I rolled this one a bit too thin and had to make a little Dough Patch which is evident in the picture below. Once the dough has been rolled out, spread a liberal amount of pesto on the surface.  I used about a cup and a half of pesto from my freezer.  
Next sprinkle goat cheese generously on top of the pesto.  I find that one end of my dough rectangle winds up a bit wider than the other.  Start to roll from with wide end, ending with the tapered end.
Don't is easy peasy!

Yum!  I can almost taste how good it is going to be!  Once it is rolled up, pop it into a bread pan.  I use a lidded ceramic bread cloche, but a metal pan would probably work just fine.  The dough will need to rise about an hour and a half. This is a good time to throw on a load of laundry or peruse Ebay for vintage overalls.  Well, at least that is what I do!

Once the dough has risen,  use a sharp knife to score the bread as pictured,  Finally, brush it with a Baking Soda Wash (Boil a 1/2 cup of water and add a teaspoon of baking soda to make a quick wash.  I didn't even let mine cool for this loaf, although I usually do.  The Wash will last about two weeks in the refrigerator).  
Finally, pop it into the pre-heated oven and set the timer for 35 minutes, open a nice bottle of wine and get ready for a party in your mouth!  Let me know how it works it when you try it....because you HAVE to try it.  You will be glad you did!


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  2. Lovely (and incredibly moving) articulation of your journey toward life. Remove your sandles, for you are now standing on holy ground. (And I can't do anything but smile.) Tell Pat I miss her, Nancy McLemore

  3. Amen, a life well lived indeed!! Love this :) :)

  4. A good life is a life well lived.

    Your story has touched some nerves in my life's journey. I was married to a builder for 16 years who did really well, we had a "good life", 3 beautiful children and what I thought was a good marriage. 20 years ago he decided his life should take a different path. I became a single mother to 3 beautiful little people. In all the chaos of a marriage dissolving he moved me and the children to MO to be closer to my family. That journey took us to a house on 3+ acres, a small piece of peace. Our lives slowed down, we started gardening invited a dog, chickens and a cat to live with us. I went back to work at the school district where my children attended so this made the adjustment of being the sole caretaker of my little people a bit easier. I turned back to my love of sewing as "my therapy" and additional income. Fast forward...empty nester...working part time in an office and making quilts for a living. "quilting = my therapy that pays for itself". Life for me as come full circle, living in the country back near family and making quilts just like my Grandma Lena did. Simple life ... simple dreams.