Friday, August 29, 2008

Peacocks Will Eat Just About Anything

I imagined, when I planted the zucchini at the side of the cabin, along with the tomatoes, peas and beans, that I was planting veggies for my farm stay guests. I never imagined I was planting a feast for Fred.

I think I have mentioned before how I am challenged to grow just about anything. If it was only that I forgot to water, then it would be my fault, but between the wildlife, the slugs, and Fred, I am more challenged than most. Of course, I never realized Fred was part of the problem until this summer when, in one day, I caught him ripping out the newly forming nasturtium flowers from my cabin's veggie bed, then rounded the side of the cabin to find only stalks remaining on the zucchini plant!

Where I had visions of large leafy vegetables, red and orange flowers, and runners filled with food pods, Fred saw dinner in the tender plants. Where I saw self-defensive greenery with spiney leaves or smelly stems, Fred saw an opportunity to prove he didn't mind. It sometimes makes me want to cry out in frustration. How could such a beautiful bird wreak so much havoc in an incredibly short amount of time...and so quietly?!

Because he cuts a regal figure, with iradescent feathers and a haughty look, Fred gets away with a great deal of mischief. Our guests love the fact he roosts on the deck railing outside the cabin. If you sit on the sofa in the living room and look out the window, first you see Fred and then you see the hay field, so it is more than picturesque. The old milk bottle filled with dry corn on the deck steps serves as a healthy treat for Fred, but I suspect he also begs for chips and crackers and anything else our guests have at hand. He does seem to use his good looks to his advantage.

I am not so easily swayed. This week I caught Fred in our fenced garden hacking through the broccoli and moving on to the lettuce. I waved my arms and brought the dogs in to help me herd. I am not sure how, exactly, he got into the garden, but I suspect he either squeezed between the gate or flew over the fence. He clucked at me as I started to chase him out. He is worse than herding the chickens, as he darted back and forth and in and out, and I yelled and the dogs barked. He turned and clucked at me one final time as I pushed him out the gate almost in a dare.

I haven't seen Fred today, mostly because it is raining and I have stayed inside. The rain never stopped that bird before and I probably need to hop out to the garden just in case he has gone to work on the tomatillos. Fred is a bird of opportunity that, like a cat, couldn't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks...because he is a pretty bird and he knows it...and he knows we would never eat him...and that is the trump card on a farm!

Photo: Fred in all his glory

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Vacation in Rural Tuscany

We just returned from a vacation in Italy with all of my family. All my family live in urban and suburban settings so a villa in the middle of rural Tuscany was magical. For us, it was magical because it was Italian and had beautiful views, but really there were so many parts that just seemed familiar: the tractors driving up and down the dirt paths to the surrounding farms, the logging operation down the road, the roosters crowing, the vineyard at the top of the hill. Heck, we could have been at our place, except for the language and the euros. Oh, yeah, and the villa!

Okay, so the villa was originally built in the 1700s, but our place, while not that old, was the first house up the Honey Grove Creek valley (if you totally ignore any native American claim to the area). It's nothing you can really brag about, though, to an Italian. We don't really 'do' history the way they do.

The villa was built of stone on the side of a steep hill. Makes me tired just to think of how this was accomplished. Of course, at some point it was abandoned and then remodeled by a zealous American wanting to have his Tuscan house in the sun. The place was meticulously restored making it light and cool and airy, even in the heat of August. I saw wood stoves in many of the rooms and wondered if it was also light and cool and airy in the winter! Probably a lot of work to heat...and a lot of wood.

Greg had a mission for this trip: to hunt down the truth about Pecorino (sheep)cheese, a specialty of the region. You can find pecorino in any supermarket or small market because it is the cheese of Tuscany. What was funny? We never saw any sheep on our entire visit. They must have been hiding on the tops of the high hills all around us or in the bottom of the deep ravines...or in Switzerland.

Did I mention that this villa had great views because we were on the top of one of those hills without sheep?! Did I mention the driving? I will never complain about narrow or twisty roads again. We had to honk around corners driving up to our place and if you weren't the first to honk you had to back up until there was a pullout with just enough space for two cars to pass. Honestly, I closed my eyes (yup, even as the driver) and hoped the Italians knew what they were doing because I hadn't bought the extra insurance on the Alfa Romero we were renting, even though I tried.

Back to the cheese. Once we had discovered that pecorino cheese is rather like cheddar in Vermont, we tried to track down a man we had been told was making it locally. Unfortunately, both the information and the directions were a little vague. "Go to the village that is just above this village and you will find him." We found the village, and the only two people around who were sitting over an ice cream (probably the only two people because siesta wasn't over yet - another problem for Americans to get used to). "Sure, Simon, makes good cheese," but we had just missed him by 10 minutes and he had probably gone off to drink for the rest of the afternoon, so there would be no cheese making that day. It was like sending someone to the Banton's down the road here in Alsea because Alma makes great refrigerator pickles...but not for anyone's consumption other than her family. Oh, well.

With a mathematical and practical reality check on what it takes to go into cheese production in the States, we soon crossed the idea off our list of future Leaping Lamb Farm business vwntures, even thought the thought of fresh cheese on the table was appealing. The rest of our stay was filled with trips into history and walks up the country roads.

Rural Italy wasn't that different from rural America, except for one idea that Greg has always appreciated; that would be nap time. As frustrating as some things are to do in Italy, no one really seems to care too much. I think it's the naps - the Mediterranean solution to all the hard stuff. Naps might be something we in America should embrace just a little more, especially now. It's like I always told our girls when they were away from home and out of their element. If things seem particularly bad, take a nap because when you wake up there will be a solution waiting for you.

The final lesson from Italy: don't plan to do anything between noon and three o'clock because everything is closed. It's nap time.

Photo: Villa Fronzola outside of Bagni di Lucca, Italy

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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