Having spent various amounts of time as a grocery clerk, war monger, auto parts clerk, tradesman, educator and farmer over the course of my adult life, I now find myself wearing a new hat: that of a chef. I am cooking lunch on weekdays for the staff, here at HappyDayFarms.
There are as many as six of us at any given meal, but the farm being an entity in constant flux, troops may stagger in whenever. They accept what is offered and return to their respective labors, while I clean up the kitchen.
As it was when I was teaching, I find that my profession occupies my mind constantly. Instead of, “What am I doing with social studies, fourth period?” it’s more, “Where am I going to get milk for the mac and cheese on Tuesday?”
Or just as likely, “If it’s Wednesday, this must be shepherd’s pie day,” because this dish allows me to raid the farm for ingredients. Why every week? The best I can do is say that it is back by popular demand.
In this week’s version I included beets, beet tops, baby onions, a big Spanish onion, green garlic, carrots, snow peas, broccoli, crimini mushrooms, bell peppers, bacon, red wine, rosemary, French thyme, sage, organic hamburger and golden potatoes, for the mashed potato crust.
Not all of these ingredients came from the farm, but the first time I made shepherd’s pie for the staff, five weeks ago, it was half carrots because, well, that was what I had and not much else. As the season progresses, I will have many more hot-weather components to include.
Alongside my cooking responsibilities is Master Ollie Mac, my two-year-old grandson, who visits me every day for a couple/three hours. Ollie is the center of my universe now, and takes a front seat even to the cooking; I cannot do both at the same time, without some serious juggling.
Some meals naturally lend themselves to being prepared in the wee hours and then simply heated up. Others can be prepped early for easy assembly later. I just need to assess as I go along what works best. I never want to find myself with Ollie at the same time something critical is happening on the stove, unless the littlest chef is up on his customary chair, assisting.
Otherwise, we’re talking cremated lunch, because of that front-seat/back-seat thing I was talking about.
So far, so excellent. I have had a meal on the table at the prescribed time, twenty-four consecutive weekdays, with barbecued tri-tai-tip fajitas slated for today, Friday. If everyone is here, great success; if there will be late-comers, also fine, because I am not going anywhere.
This marks the 76th day in a row for me not leaving the mountain; I was expecting trombones.
A good friend has suggested to me that I am trying to redefine my role here on-farm, and I expect that is correct. Who was the Head Chef here in the past? Who was it that craved grandchildren so badly, her heart ached? Who is it that is missing?
It’s no wonder I am consumed with spending time with a Little Man and cooking up a storm: I am trying to be both me and Annie, simultaneously.
Since I could never replace Annie no matter what I did, the best I can do is try to encompass a couple of those many traits that best defined her, into my repertoire.
Hence, Chez Markie and Assistant.