Note from the author: The fifth paragraph in this column is rated PG13 for mild violence. If you are under 13 years old and not accompanied by an adult, please skip the fifth paragraph. What? No, young lady, I was not counting any of the dialogue as a paragraph. Go ahead and read the dialogue, just skip the fifth paragraph. What? Yes, this author's note is being counted as a paragraph. Um... well, if you find out that a certain mouse gets a boo-boo, then you read the wrong one. Hmmm. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't read any of this.
When an animal tilts its head and looks at you, you're probably doing something wrong. I got the head tilt from our new kitten, Jack. What was I doing? I was catching a mouse. Our two barn cats had their paws full with patrolling two huge barns, so we brought home some help. As an orphaned--and slightly overweight--tuxedo cat, Jack needed someone to show him how to catch a mouse. At the moment I got "the look" I had just caught the mouse by leaping on it from across the kitchen. One second the mouse was scurrying from behind the stove, and the next second it was in my hand. I had it by the tail and one back leg. Either I was really hungry or I've been living in the country too long, or both. And you're right: a mouse in my hand isn't safe. Don't worry, I donned a long welder's glove just for the occasion.
"Just like that!" I said, beaming at Jack and holding up the mouse.
"Meow!" he responded with his head tilted. It either meant "Right on, Dad!" or "Mice are gross, and you're deranged!" Jack's accent makes him difficult to understand sometimes.
His head remained tilted as I stood up. I picked Jack up with my free arm and carefully opened the door to the backyard. The mouse in my hand squirmed as I leaned over and placed Jack in the grass. I wiggled my gloved hand just enough to release the mouse's leg. He squirmed some more, now hanging only by his tail. I held the mouse out in front of Jack, his eyes widening and his tail swishing excitedly.
"Okay!" I shouted. "Get it!"
I let the mouse go in the grass, about 2 inches in front of Jack. Excited, I watched to see what Jack's strategy would be. Would he just pounce and devour, or would he toy with the mouse until it was exhausted and remorseful for contaminating our entire bread box? I watched Jack. Jack sat motionless and watched the mouse disappear around the back of the house. This wasn't the strategy I had in mind.
"Ahhh, Jack!" I said. "Come on, little man, I just showed you what to do!"
Macy, one of our seasoned barn cats, sauntered out from behind the house. The mouse was held firmly in her teeth. (What? No, I didn't ask the mouse for any identification. I'm assuming that it was the same mouse. You again? Didn't I tell you not to read this paragraph? I suppose it's too late now. What? No, no one else gets hurt in this column. Look, this is a column about a farm. Farms have mice, and they raise cats to catch the mice. Why? Well, partly because mice can contaminate the horse feed. Would you prefer this were a column about a horse that gets sick on contaminated feed? I thought not. Now where was I?) Okay. So, Macy sat near us in the grass and ate the mouse. She looked at Jack as if inviting him to lunch. Jack just flopped over in the grass and purred. I tilted my head and looked at him. I'm really not sure about his future as a barn cat. The sun was setting, so I carried Jack inside before his mostly black coat camouflaged him in the twilight.
The unsuccessful mouse-catching lesson was only a small part of a full day on the farm. Kimberly and I were starving, so we fixed one of our favorite fall dinners: potato-leek soup with grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Like good music and good stories, good food is meant to be shared. I can't send you a bowl of soup or a sandwich, but I can give you the recipes at the end of my column.
Our dog, Kit, waited patiently with big goo-goo eyes beside me at the table as we ate. I gave her a generous and crispy sandwich corner. Yes, the dog has me trained. Rewarding her tableside begging is probably bad parenting. But, I fixed the food, so I can share my food however I want, right? Kimberly and I were in heaven with our bellies full of soup and fat-fried sandwiches. We paid the barn a visit with the dogs and cats in tow. The horses were happy to get blanketed and fed. None of their hay or feed was fried in pork fat, but they seemed excited all the same. The dinner put me in such a good mood. I think I hugged all the horses, but I don't think that they were particularly moved by my sentimentality.
Back in the house, I had enough time before bed to make some homemade chicken stock. I tossed in some chopped carrots, leek tops and celery, peppercorns, a few bay leaves, garlic, a frozen chicken carcass and covered the whole mess with water. I brought it to a boil, and then simmered it for a couple of hours.
Just before bedtime, I strained the mix and dropped the container of stock into an ice bath to cool it off. I usually eat the softened garlic cloves by spreading them on bread and sprinkling them with a little salt. I then pick the remaining meat off the chicken bones to use in soup or gravy. Jack sat silently at my feet. I had already ruined the other two cats' good manners when one night I fed them each a small amount of fresh shrimp. Now if they're inside when I start peeling or cooking shrimp, the kitchen is thrown into immediate and absolute feline chaos.
Since I can't seem to settle for well-behaved cats, I dropped a bit of chicken meat on the floor in front of Jack. After barely a nano-second of inspection, he inhaled the chicken and looked up at me with the manic stare of a full-blown poultry addict.
Jack nearly ripped my pants off in an attempt to climb up me to get at the carcass on the countertop. His meows were jittery and desperate as he chased me from the kitchen, the warm chicken aroma wafting from my greasy hands. Jack swiped at me with razor-sharp claws as he leapt from the various pieces of furniture I ran past. Kimberly was sitting in the office as I ran through with Jack clinging to my back using all of his claws. Jack and I were both howling, though each of us for very different reasons. After a series of laps, Kimberly headed us off in the foyer and pulled Jack from my back, along with bits of my shirt and probably some skin. I now understand why being a drug dealer is so dangerous.
Kimberly closed Jack in the bathroom with a tiny bowl of shredded chicken meat. Behind the door, it sounded like we had trapped a starved Bengal Tiger. Kimberly applied some iodine to my latest injuries as I finished chilling and refrigerating the chicken stock. Before heading to bed, we carefully opened the bathroom door. Jack was on the bath mat, asleep beside the empty bowl. Well, no one ever said feeding a farm was safe. Besides, I do what I have to do to keep my family fed.
Tomorrow will be another day with more work and more meals. As I fell asleep, lying on my stomach, I happily calculated that my new, furry personal trainer had actually exercised me enough to work off the pork fat in that sandwich.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.
Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section and share your comments in the forum. Get help feeding your farm with his recipes below.
3 medium-large leeks
2 pounds red potatoes
1 1/2 quarts of cold water
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 generous tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, picked from the stems
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Makes: a goodly amount; you'll have enough for lunch tomorrow. (Also, extra soup can be frozen.)
Peel and chop the potatoes into large pieces. Drop them into a container with the cold water so all the potato pieces are covered. Set aside. Trim the leeks of their roots and tops--we only want the pale green/white, tender stalks. Clean the stalks by slicing them in half lengthwise and rinsing the sand from between the layers under running cold water. Slice the cleaned stalks.
In a large pot over medium-high heat, sweat the sliced leeks in the olive oil until they're translucent--you don't want them to brown. So, stir them a bit here and there and don't walk away from the pot. (If you have to run to the barn, take the pot off the heat!) When the leeks are done, pour in the potatoes with their water and toss in the garlic and thyme. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat so the mix is at a solid simmer. Simmer uncovered until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked and falling apart. Turn off heat.
If you have a hand blender, blend the soup right in the pot. If not, blend the soup thoroughly in batches in a blender. Tip #1: When mixing hot liquids in a blender, only fill the blender to about half and use a folded kitchen towel to hold the lid in place. Return the soup to the pot over medium-low heat. (If the soup is thicker than you want, add water, vegetable stock or chicken stock-1/4 cup at a time while stirring.) Add the butter--it will add great flavor and make the soup smoother. Stir in the salt and pepper to taste. Tip #2: If you over-salt any soup recipe, you can usually fix it by adding small amounts of lemon juice and sampling until the recipe is properly seasoned.
Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches
4 or 5 ounces of sliced Colby cheese
4 slices of bread (preferably homemade white or wheat if you have it)
2 or 3 tablespoons pork fat, rendered from bacon, sausage or fatback
4 thin slices of ham
Makes: 2 tasty sandwiches
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt about half the pork fat and add two slices of bread. (Hey, this recipe is completely tasty, not completely healthy! In my defense, I do use natural pork products purchased from a nearby farm.) Add about half of the cheese to each bread slice, and then add the ham slices, followed by the remainder of the cheese and the other bread slices. When the first side of the sandwich is golden brown, flip and brown the other side. Slice the sandwiches diagonally (it looks cool) and serve with the soup. If anyone gives you a hard time about dunking your sandwich in your soup, tell them you made the food, and you can eat it however you want.