Sunday, December 4, 2011
Life has taken precedence over writing the last few weeks. I have been very busy fixing up my house. It was a huge project, since my father could never keep up with the maintenance. He liked to do things by himself and not hire anyone, but the house was the last thing on his to do list.
We had a problem with rain water infiltration, which ended up creating mold on the ceiling and the walls. The walls were cracked, for the house had a problem with a foundation which got fixed, but the cracks remained for years. The tile floor had many missing pieces, and one of the worst problems were old appliances lined up in the kitchen. It was not only an unpleasant view of the house, but the cat was doing a bad job of keeping the mice away.
After my father’s death, with the fear of living just three women on the farm, I decided to change the kitchen doors that lead to the outside, as they were totally rusted, and one of them was being locked with an old belt. Slowly I asked them to do extra jobs, and ended up fixing up the whole house. They finished inside painting last week, and are still working on exterior.
It was a tremendous step for me, as fixing up the house (and spending all the money) means that I am to remain on the house and possibly, with the farm. The house now is the center of my life. I never took good care of any place I lived, as I always thought not to be permanent. When I was single and living in America, I spent the least money on decorating the home, always buying mismatched things at garage sales. Only when I got married and moved to a house, my husband allowed me to buy new furniture. I shopped many things at Ikea, to soon sell them all as we moved to Brazil. Here, we bought our first home, paying it off cash. Everything was new, but the marriage started to fall apart. Once again, we moved back to America, to Florida, this time. We had all used furniture again. Later, we financed a home, but the sparse furniture were the same. The only thing I did was to paint inside the house, using a technique I learned on TV. My bedroom resembled an old Tuscan home, with rusted golden color and unfinished wooden furniture. I loved the dark red with golden embroidery on a bed cover and on the curtains. I decorated the walls with black iron candle holder on the walls. Again, with the end of marriage, I sold them all. I returned to Brazil bringing only newly bought home appliances and some bed and bath items. Once settled in a small resort town I chose to live before I moved back with my parents, I furnished the house, spending again all the money I had brought.
The idea of settling myself here is starting to spring up in my mind. I feel happy and at peace. I have everything I need in this little town.
While I took away all the old kitchen appliances (3 refrigerators, 3 cabinets – actually one book shelf that worked as one, and a stove), three of six tables, and many more items, specially things that were cluttering the house, I hanged old canvas my mom and sister oil painted several decades ago. With a clean home, decorating it is an indescribable pleasure.
While before I was embarrassed to have people over, I now invite friends to visit me.
But my plans don’t end at finishing the house, but they extend to transform my yard into a nice garden. My plan is to transform part of the farm into “green savings” (plantation of trees for future wood harvest) and other part for reforestation. I will love to plant native trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers to be my own private forest. The reviving of the garden is in my mother’s honor, as she used to have a large collection of plants around of the house. Part of it died when she travel as seasonal worker to Japan and others died when she was unable to care for them. A very few plants have survived, and I am now wanting to run around to form a lush garden all over again.
Living on a farm is to live with living things. They always make me want to live another day, as if they depended on me.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Folar is an Easter bread that can be sweet or savory, depending upon the region of Portugal. What is different about this recipe is the incredible amount of eggs in the dough. The best thing is that it turns out light, fluffy, yet full of flavor, with a delicate crust that melts in the mouth.
The first time I heard about folar was at a hair saloon. The lady taught me how to make this bread, and also paella with rabbit meat. I never got to make the paella her way, but I sure made folar a few times.
Over twenty years had passed, and here am I again making folar on an improved recipe I found on the internet at www.gastronomias.com. For those ones who cannot read Portuguese, I shall translate it for you with my own personal twist (and experience). This is a great recipe.
1 kg all-purpose flour
12 eggs (yes, 12!) with shells warmed in warm water before breaking
250g melted butter
50g olive oil
30g compressed fresh yeast melted in ¼ cup warm water
Warm milk and salt
Smoked sausage sliced, salt pork or bacon cut into small cubes, ham, roasted chicken
In a large bowl, make a well in the center of the flour. Pour melted yeast and eggs, mixing in a circle, adding the flour little by little. Add butter and oil. If the dough is stiff, add a little bit of warm milk with salt to taste. It´s a soft dough, so you do more beating kind of movement than kneading until it forms a ball. Let it rise.
The recipe instructs to divide the dough into 3 and make layers (like lasagna) with meat. Let it rise again, and then, brush with egg wash, and bake in hot oven for 45 minutes.
I have done it differently. I was so tired and sleepy that night that I stashed into the fridge until next morning. I took it out of the fridge, kneaded a bit, and stretched with a hand roller. I cut the dough into 2, opened it like pizza crust, and spread the meat over. I rolled it (like would sushi), tucked the sides underneath and let it rise. Over two hours later, and with the dough risen greatly, I popped them in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. I lowed the temperature a bit, so not to burn. They came out huge, light, fluffly, and tasty.
The next day I used the same recipe and process, but filled with provolone cheese and the other piece with green olives. I can’t say which one is best.
When I first took interest for country style bread baked in a wood fired oven, I asked my neighbor that I barely knew to teach me the secrets of the trade. I was after the type of bread stored in my childhood memories that tasted much different from the bread I eat today, even if baked in wood fired ovens. Dona Rosa, then, told me that her sister who lives several miles away had “yeast in a bottle”.
A few days ago,I put in a bag a package of cookies, flour and sugar (these were to be given as gifts), picked up Dona Rosa and headed for her sister´s house. She lives in a very small rural community of dozen homes in a rather scenic route. I used to drive this road while taking “Pro-Milk”, a course to learn how to work with milking cows.
We were greeted by four women, an elderly lady, two middle aged women and a teenager. The older lady is Dona Rosa´s mother who is already a greatgreatgrandmother. Dona Rosa herself turned a greatgrandmother at the age of 50. Anyway, we all seated on the sofa and they talked about people’s state of health. I tried to be interested but my mind wondered on how soon I was going to see the starter. I noticed that the wood looked grungy, as my mom used to say the wood houses always look dirty and dark. Sometimes it holds a smell. At certain point, the lady announced that she would make some coffee and disappeared into the kitchen. About thirty minutes later, she invited us to sit at the table.
She served us two plain deep fried dough. Davina said that the first one was made of flour, water, and baking powder. The second one was made with sourdough starter, “so I could see the difference”. Anything fried makes just flour and water taste delicious. Some were puffed up, but they had no filling.
Over an hour and still no signs of the starter. Only when everybody was finished, included some family members that joined us later that Davina took the prized starter from the fridge, kept in a 1 liter coke plastic bottle. About one inch of flour on the bottom, and 500 ml of liquid. It was inert, no bubbles or foam. It looked flat and watery. She gave me the recipe to feed the starter: 9 tablespoons of flour, 3 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt. She omit the type of spoon, so on my first experience, I added too much salt.
The great day came; I treated my starter, took half for the bread, and kept half in the fridge. The bread recipe was 2 kg flour, 500 or 600 ml starter, less than a cup of oil, some water, sugar and salt. The dough came out very stiff, but I didn’t know how it was supposed to be. So I added more starter and oil. I left the dough rest for the night, punched it down next morning, put stretched the dough with a hand roller, and free formed them. Another few hours until they went to Dona Rosa’s wood fired oven.
The bread smelled like sweet yeast (if this thing exist), it tasted slightly sour, but not quite like California sourdough bread. The density and the texture, besides the pale color of the crust, definitely I can tell that I have reproduced the bread of my childhood.
The bread became better with further bakings, and I have used the starter to make deep fried dough and also pizza crust. I thought to be a mix of tough and chewy crust, but the taste had character. Something to become addicted to. The next day, I heated over a dry pan and the crust became crunch and even more delicious.
I am still to try sourdough pancakes and guava paste filled fried dough.
Yeah, I dumped my two other starters I had made at home from scratch. They were too sour, almost offensive. To taste, the “yeast in a bottle” is sweet and mild. Interestingly, it rises better in a tall narrow container. When kept tightly closed in a bottle, at the opening, it may burst like a champagne. How fun!
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Soapmaking is a simple process, but rather dangerous. I wouldn´t recommend just to anyone. Only people that feel safe in handling boiling elements can take on a project like this. In this video, I wanted just to show you how I make one of my household use soaps; it is not intended to teach you to make one. There is no space for detailed orientation in the video, nor have I enough knowledge to instruct you on a safe soapmaking process. The alcohol based soaps trace very quickly, specially when added to tallow. The most dangerous mixture is the use of too warm lye mixture, too warm tallow, an alcohol. The soap mixture boils over as soon as it traces, leaving a pool of raw soap on the floor. If you noticed, you will see the angry fumes going up after doing the spoon test. It boiled over, you will see next to the tray. I was able to pour it afterwards, but lost quite a bit of useable soap. The foam that hardens also cleans well - so, no need to cut it away. I like using the bar soap on dishes, but I boil grated soap in water to use in laundry machine. I don´t believe to be good to be used on dishwashing machine (I don´t have one). Of course, I start using the soap when it turns white (cured), at least partially. Raw soap that catches on a bucket is used to soak kitchen towels or rags. I love making this soap for several reasons: it traces in a matter of seconds; it never goes wrong; it yields beautiful, uniform, smooth soap; it cleans like no other; no residual smell of animal fat; it dries and hardens fast; it´s a winner.
My Very First Sourdough Bread
I am diving deep into rural culture of doing everything from scratch. After the experience of baking pizza in my new wood fired oven, I took interest in wild yeast fermentation process, the .sourdough starter.
Most of the time, my only door to the outside world is the internet. I researched all I could to learn the process. It is rather a very easy thing, just like soapmaking.
I began with two different recipes, one that I followed more closely, and the other one that I ended up doing my way – both turned out OK.
The first days, neither mixture would show anything except slight deterioration. The chef James Beard´s recipe called for flour, sugar, milk, water, and later on, a package of dry commercial yeast. As I had only instant dry yeast, I used compressed fresh yeast. The mixture never really bubbled, looking more like iogurt, even though it smelled like good beer . The other mixture I used just flour and water, and it looked flat, lifeless, until I decided to feed more flour. Then, it started to foam. Unlike others I have seen on the internet that make large bubbles, even on the bottom of the container, my was foamy only on top, but sticky all through..
After seven days or so, I prepared Beard´s recipe for sponge. It was strange to me that a sponge would take a lot more flour than the bread recipe, but I followed it. For the bread dough itself, he calls for a package of active dry yeast, which I didn´t have (I found only the instant one or the compressed kind in the store), so I was forced to use the instant yeast, as the compressed had green mold on it. It took a rise, a punch down, another rise, and then to shape it into a roll. I think my problem started at this point, as the end result was a flat, dense, slightly raw tasting bread, which endeed tasting deliciously tangy, with a dry thick crust on top and smushy bottom. First, I left the dough rise too long for the type of yeast after I shaped it. The dough opened on the top, showing some bubbles. Then, it suffered with low temperature oven, which instead of baking in 30 minutes, took over an hour. I was so dismayed that I would have gone to town to buy a good stove just to bake my other bread tomorrow. But tomorrow is holiday and all stores are closed.
Meanwhile, the other dough is still left to rise. I am soon going to punch down and mold it into a free form and tomorrow, to see how it tastes. I am most curious about this one as it doesn´t have any commercial yeast, and the dough rose wonderfully.
I am going to ask for my neighbors help to bake my bread in her wood fired oven. Or I will lose my hard worked dough. After all, for this one, it is going to be 10 days of watching, caring, kneading, and expecting.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
I had plans of building a brick oven using red earth as a mortar, just like many other cheap and common igloo shaped ovens around here. But I remembered that a Baptist Church runs an orphanage in the next town had a pre-molded oven they had abandoned saying "it burned the bread". At that time, I thought that the oven was made with concrete. Only later I found out that they used a refractory concrete, which makes the oven perfectly usable. The same day I got the metal wood stove, I ran to the orphanage and asked for the oven. The pastor didn´t know the current price so couldn´t sell it right away. I had a price set on my mind, but for some reason, I had forgotten how much it costs in my store. A couple days later, I showed up and told him the price (R$390 for a brand new similar type). He sold me for R$150 and I offered him $20 extra to have it delivered next day, and I had already put a donation on my first visit. The whole adventure cost me R$210. But it doesn´t end there.
The anxiety of trying out the oven (to see if it really burns the bread) and eating a homemade pizza, I had the carpenters who are fixing up my house to set my oven just for that occasion.
I had rolled a heavy sewage concrete pipe to my yard and made a hole to hasten their job the following day. So they used red earth and cement as a mortar to glue the pieces together.
So, I made pizza not only once, but three times on my improvised oven stand. A few accidents happened, such as the wooden piece I had place under the oven (without isolating it with bricks)caught fire, the whole Calabrese sausage onion pizza fell upside down on the dirt floor, and serving some uncooked burned pizza with ashes on top for guests who were in a hurry.
I got valuable lessons from it: can´t hurry the oven fire, can´t hurry the oven construction, and don´t walk around with hot pan of Calabrese pizza.
My oven is still on an improvised stand, and I guess, it is going to be a few more days (or weeks) to have it in a permanent place, under a firm brick stand, over a concrete pad. I have also bought fiberglass matt to place around the igloo to insulate the heat. We don´t use this material/technique in Brazil, but I have seen on youtube, so I decided to include it on my oven construction.
While I can´t use my igloo oven, I keep using my regular gas stove for baking.
Wood fired oven is my latest passion. As a child, I used to see rustic brick made ovens on the countryside where women would make big free form loaves of bread. My mother never had one, the same way that she never made soaps, sausages, or cheese. All the nice things that were made back then.
A few weeks ago, my new tenant and I traded a piece of tractor equipment for this antique stove. He said that he got it from the local Catholic church, but I have no idea how this kind of stove ended up in our region. We have a very hot climate around here, and a metal stove that works as a heater is unwanted. It is of my knowledge that European descent people own this kind of appliance in the South, where it gets cold in the winter. My aunt told me that my grandmother used to have one. In Brazil, the brick made stove is the most common.
So I became curious about the metal stove and adopted it. But it came without a part of the chimney, what makes my baking almost impossible. Today, a woman from my church brought me a ceramic piece that may help to assemble the chimney. I am hoping for the best.
My enthusiasm is back around farm living, after a few months of discouragement. If you remember, my father decided to sell the farm for I was decided to go back to my city life somewhere in America. I was heart broken, and all I wanted was to find my self-worth elsewhere. In the midst of all this, my father suddenly got ill and passed away. My brother came from America on a quick trip basically to tell me that he wanted nothing to do with the farm and left. My sister didn't want to take our bedridden mom to Sao Paulo city into her tiny apartment. But I had already decided to stay, take care of my mother, and fight to get my heart healed now for two big losses. So the adventures on the farm continue in this hot and dry beginning of Spring.
A big era ended in my life - of care-free living. I finally grew to be an adult? I took over the farm; I am now solely responsible for my mother's care and still having to raise a 10-year old girl. I have six dogs, four of them I chose to adopt in the last three years, and a male cat left by my father.
Many people got afraid for me as we are just three women - a frail elderly, a child, and myself - living on a rural area, where violent crimes have been reported. But I chose to remain on the farm and I chose not to be ridden by fear. I installed an alarm system in the house and am careful to come in and out. I have studied adopting a more aggressive dog such as Rotweiller, but I am unsure about my authority over him.
I was able to rent the pasture and with it, I got all the fencing fixed. With the weeds low, the danger of fire also diminishes. Today I witnessed two blazing spots and two other smoky patch along the road within a few miles from the farm. That was scary. But we are expecting rain for the next few days, and this should ameliorate the situation.
The pasture rental doesn´t pay me much; of course, much less than if I had a cattle myself. But it is so worry free that I actually like that I can make money doing nothing. The renter is a successful vegetable grower in town. I had met him a couple years ago and from whom I got my crazy Border Collie mix.
The chicken coop is still being rented to the same man for years. Nothing changed. Now, I have only the coffee plantation section to be taken care of. I know that I may get even less than renting a pasture, but at least, someone will care for what my father put so much work, money and efforts. A neighbor told me that my father confessed him "I know that I am not going to live another 50 years. I am working hard to leave the farm productive for my daughter." I am so sorry I can't harvest coffee another year. It takes investiments and human labor I am not apt to work with. My only option besides selling the farm would be to rent them out. That's what I am doing. I feel somewhat ashamed to tell that I didn't chose to fight against the odds and throwing myself into a rural enterpreneurship.
When we think about differences between city and farm living, imediately comes to one´s mind the tranquility of bucolic lifestyle one can have on a farm. It is still true, but to me, the brutal difference is that the city skills that I have are almost of no use here. It´s a whole new way of thinking and solving problems. Being a woman, I get no much respect by employees who are used to deal with male bosses, when we get to hire any. A man who was fixing the fence works for my tenant, and I wanted to hire him to do the fence around my house. Even though this worker knows me, he just disappeared into a thin air. My tenant told me of this man´s resistance to work for a woman, even though he offered to give him a ride everyday and assist him in fence building. During harvest, I would have to deal with at least six to fifteen people, many of them men. I am supposed to be the old fashioned authoritarian boss, but I was educated to be democratic. Of course, there is a difference between being a good leader and a weak one, but it is not part of my personality to force one into doing something. The rural workers are rejected ones from the workforce for lack of education and skills. Those aspects also make them very difficult to deal with. I have a temp worker who does little jobs for me who is completely illiterate. He doesn´t sign his name, doesn´t read clock hours and doesn´t know money. Thank God he is a docile man that resembles much the gardener played by Peter Seller´s in "Being There" or "The Idiot", a Dostoevsky´s character. Of course, instructions are almost useless. He doesn´t understand them, specially if I give him a sequence of work. I need to work side by side, so the work progresses.
The farm is about 40 acres, divided into chicken coops, coffee plantation, the pasture and the house. So my new playground are the house and the surrounding area. It is still pretty large. I have an orchard, a space for vegetable gardening, a front yard for flower garden and so much more.
If I sold the farm, I would get only a house the size I have now in town. Right now, I have electricity and water included in my tenant's account; I have several fruit trees I planted a couple years ago. Some of them I have been already harvesting fruits. I prize also the silence and solitude in the countryside. But I don't feel isolated. I drive to town twice a day, a house helper comes every morning, I chat with my neighbor almost every day. And, I have an internet access - that's my door to the world. Besides, I always find something of my interest to develop.
I am working to turn my dream into reality: to have a wood fired oven; my house fixed up; to build a rustic sauna and a hot tub. My latest interest is sourdough starter! Today I baked rosemary foccacia in my regular gas stove. But I have tried my second hand purchased pre-molded oven with pizza making. Also, I bought a very old metal stove, wood burning, and have tried to bake some. But the lack of chimney makes the oven cool quickly, so I have put it aside for a while.
This is the scenery of my current farm life. I am not growing vegetables, raising free-range chickens, pigs, or cows. I only have pets. The great part of income comes from my father´s pension and my mother´s retirement, besides the child support money. A smaller amount comes from the lease. I don´t have a single thing that comes from the land that I turn into money. Or no food that I feed myself on. I feel like I have a suburban lifestyle.
I am trying to figure out if I am a fake or not, or if I have succumbed into a new economic reality in my country. I can´t survive out of the small land. I don´t have a large family, the skills, the bank loan, the government support. I could get knowledge (as I have been getting through classes), but knowledge alone won´t plow the land. More on this subject sometime later.
I just came to say that I am well, happy, and with many projects I want to share with you.
Have a great Spring! - at least here, down the Equator.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Of course, my mom didn´t allow us to take anything that didn´t belong to us. But I did. I took two green sweet passionfruit and hid them in a cool and dark spot. As it was my usual spot to play, after a few days, unexpectedly, I found them totally ripe and...sweet. So I learned that green fruit may become ripe away from its tree - it was unknown to me. A big finding for someone who only picked ripe fruits.
Even though we may find sweet passionfruit growing in many places, it is not largely sold in markets. After that episode, I ate again many years later, bought at the produce market in Sao Paulo city. In America? I don´t remember having eaten any, so whenever I came to visit, I would buy several and gorge on them. As a matter of fact, the edible part is the jelly like pulp and the seeds. We don´t chew seeds, or they will sour your mouth.
This kind of passionfruit is eaten as a fruit, different from the "juice kind" which is rounder and pale yellow, and easily found in the market. The juice kind is sour, yet, very popular for juice making. You will need to mix with water and lots of sugar, just like lemonade. You may try to mix the pure juice with cold black tea and sweet condensed milk. It´s a deep, smoky, creamy, sweet with a hint of acidity and very fragrant drink that it is almost a dessert by itself.
Brazilians like to use passionfruit (the juice kind) to make mousses, jello, creams, you name it. Use it as would lemon. Just sieve the juice and discard seeds. For juice, blend together the pulp with seeds, sugar and cold water. It is known to have very calming effect. There is even some herbal medicine made from it.
If you want to see its beautiful exotic looking flower, please check May 17, 2010 - April Reviewed blog.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Banana is the most popular and the cheapest fruit in Brazil. We appreciate it in several ways, raw, cooked, baked, grilled, ripe or green. Yes, green bananas can be made into chips. But the latest findings came from Universidade Estadual do Rio Grande do Norte where researchers claim that a certain substance (inulin) in the green banana helps the digestion and in weight loss program. It is recommended to take 2 tablespoons the first thing in the morning and before going to bed. You can always mix it into soups,cakes,stews, and smoothies.
Cooked green bananas smell like asparagus (!) and the cooked skin tastes like one. But the texture is different. Even after blended, it resembles pureed asparagus. Fry lots of garlic in olive oil, add pureed green bananas, and here is an original creme of bananas.
Here is the recipe:
3 green bananas with the peel, stalk and the bottom removed, washed
Boiling water enough to cover the bananas (for cooking)
1 1/2 cup Boiling water for blending
Cook bananas with the peel on for 20 minutes or until soft. Peel the bananas, discart skin and the cooking water. Place pulp in a blender and blend in with boiling water.
"The result starts to appear in two weeks added to a healthy diet and exercise", claims the dietician. With a healthy diet and exercise, no need for puree of green bananas I believe. But it is supposed to be very healthy, fat-free, sugar-free, so, why not to try?
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Many years ago my father got homemade soap from his niece and brought a recipe with it. I imagine that he wanted make it someday. He never did, but I have made countless batches of it, and it turns out perfect every time. I love it as it is a "flash" system of making soap - no need to mix for 40 minutes like any other recipe.
Soapmaking in Brazil is not seen as treasured craft, rather, a boring task that many housewives are to do to save some money. We use reclaimed kitchen oil and suet. Many will render it at home, some others buy at the butcher shop. It is cheap. The most costly item is lye followed by alcohol we usually buy at the gas station. It is called ethanol, used as car fuel. Here is the recipe:
4 liters reclaimed kitchen oil
2 liters melted suet (warm)
1 kg lye flakes
4 liters alcohol
2 liters cold water
In a sturdy bucket pour lye flakes slowly into 2 liters of water. Mix until well dissolved. Set aside. In a larger bucket (capacity of 18 liters), pour melted suet, oil and alcohol. Mix a bit. Pour lye solution slowly while mixing with another hand using a very long stick (such as wooden broom stick). It will trace very quickly - in less than 5 minutes in Brazilian warm climate. Alcohol speeds up the trace, so be ready to pour the soap into a proper container. I use a sturdy plastic (bus)tray (used in restaurants.) It will be hard for cutting next day and let it cure.
Tips: The soap is ready when it forms a foam in the center while mixing and when the mixture displays some honey like gel hanging on the stick. Do not take long to pour the soap or it may boil over by itself. If it does happen, let it subside by itself and then pour. Also, do not let it cool in the bucket. The alcohol releases some fume while in process, beware. It yields 20 kg.
Friday, July 29, 2011
July 29th, 2011 – The Moment of Truth
The winter months have been quite different from other years. It has not been cold at all. On the opposite, we are having sunny and dry days, some cool nights. In Northern countries, this would be early Fall. August is known as “mad dog´s months”, perhaps for the number of hydrophobia (rabies) that I had never seen. I was bitten though by my own dog, ran to the emergency room, had my wounds washed by Nursing Technician students and recommended to take two kinds of shots: one for rabies and another for tetanus. In spite of several bad scars on my left leg and on my left ring finger (that I was so anxious to put back into use), it turned out that my dog had no rabies neither feelings of guilt toward his bad act. On the opposite, he befriended me even more. It was just an accident. While I was holding his collar after getting off the car, the other male dog came from behind to attack him. Tobby just turned back and instead of bitting my black lab, he bit my lower leg, my thigh, and also my finger. It would be a great job if done to an assailant... Anyway, in my quiet life, the only males interested in me are one black Lab and a white Border Collie, both mix.
I had my “cold meal man” (the worker who gets paid by his day of work and not submitted to the labor laws) coming to hoe wild weeds around my house. The drought is so severe that they have not come back and it has been weeks that the landscape look nice as the first day of cleanning up.
The beautiful dry sunny days, somewhat windy, all cleared around the house, with the end of orange season, I still feel melancholic by the loss of my father in the beginning of June. I still can´t talk much about it, and feel unable to write about the weeks that preceeded his unexpected death. All I can say is that he left me a legacy of work ethics, a bountiful coffee harvest, a large house, an organized office full of notes, including a diary. He is gone and I am now to remain on the farm, not forcefully, but by my own will.
I am living as if I was in the desert. Besides plenty of limes and some bland tasting papayas, I have to buy everything at the farmer´s market. I have not re-started with my vegetable garden, and I don´t know when I can do it again. All the irrigation pipes are disconnected with the pieces collected somewhere, and above all, I don´t have my father´s help to haul the chicken or cow manure, to plow the soil with a tractor. As a matter of fact, all his farm equipments are useless for me now. I don´t know how to use any of those. Not even the tractor or the pick-up truck. For lack of use, they have gone dead. I am feeling discouraged to start looking at these matters. But I hope soon to be able to lease the coffee plantation and maybe the pasture. I don´t feel able to take on such a job for myself. So many things on the farm I don´t know what is good for. The toolhouse with hundreds of hand tools, chains, and how about chemicals? Fertilizers and weed or bug killers? What am I supposed to do with the sawmill?
But a few things I was already forced to do. I had to fix the pipe under the sink, and another in the bathroom. I climbed up to the roof to fix a leak on another pipe. But for electrical jobs, I have called the electrician.
For coffee and the castor oil seed harvest, I hired a contractor.
For the first time, I am resposible for a volumous amount of a product stored elsewhere that I have to find the right moment to sell: it is a commodity – the coffee beans.
If I told you about the legal and financial matters my father left me, I will go depressed. I don´t like to deal with these things. But for being an adult, once in a while, I am faced with contracts and bills to pay.
Many people are concerned about our safety of living on a farm with all women (my bedridden mom, my 10-year old daughter, and myself). Robbers have taken farmers hostage into their own homes, have beaten them up, committed violence. For fear of such things, I have ordered an estimate for fencing up around the house. But the cost is extremely high for dubious benefit. So...I will need to trust God and my common sense in order to keep ourselves safe.
So many of my father´s responsibility has all gone to me, but it also gave me a terrible sense of freedom and power. I can decide, given good conditions, for the destiny of the farm. This is the moment of truth: can I live my old dream of owning a farm? For now, it is more of a nightmare.
After my father´s illness and death , I have not been able to go back to run on a dirt road, neither to take on my Yoga and Pilates I used to do at home. My plans are to go back to these and also to re-start my healthy eating. I have gorged too much lately, and becoming lazy for small tasks for having gained a few pounds. I can´t accept that. I have to use my days to work and feel well, to sleep well at night, and be happy when I wake up.
For now, I am feeling overwhelmed for having inherited this piece of land with all the joys and troubles that come with it. God help me!
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
April 10th, 2011 - Ressurrection
The hot and humid days are slowing subsiding, making it more bearable to live here. I am thankful that even with days like those, the weather is still manageable. I can go outside everyday.
I started to run a few miles a day on an unpaved road near by my farm. I never thought of this possibility – “to cross the border” of my farm. We always lived very secluded within our property, never wandering around, or visiting neighbors very often. My mother wanted to keep us away from strange men’s eyes, and I am grateful for it. That´s my turn now to teach my daughter to do the same.
The road goes around the farm, for a few miles, up and down gentle hills, making it pleasant to ride a bycicle. At certain point, I reach the rural paved road, and have a view of a lake. The worst part is when I have to pass by a house with a mean dog.
I try hard to look at everyday blessings I have in my life. Running in the morning, already getting some sunshine, along with my five (of six) dogs, I go under pinus trees, some honeysuckle vine climbing off the cliff, extending my vision to green pasture taken by cows to the left, and coffee plantation to the right. I rarely see people, but when it does happen, I surely know them.
Nothing else has changed much, except that I am no longer working on my vegetable garden. I have time now for running while my housecleaner works in the house. I have more time to spare, thinking, writing, reading, sleeping, and attending church several times a week.
I am preparing myself to spend here another year, trying to accept the facts the way that they are; not with the intention to change it, but to surrender. But my biggest challenge so far is to change my way of thinking. I don’t let my thoughts run aimessly anymore. I am vigilant, and gently, I redirect my mind to Jesus.
All the other plans will come in second. I feel the need to overcome the cheap desires of my flesh, toughning my soul, but feeding my spirit.
While everything looks frozen in my outward life, my inward life is bubbling with restoration of my soul. I am very excited with my new spiritual journey after two years of drought.
I am having my faith restored. When I can’t do anything else, when all the odds seem to be against me, that’s when God comes in. In a very little ways, He has shown me that there is a way. A 68-year old widow told me she bought a tiny piece of land wanting to plant mandioc, yam, and corn. If she has a dream of seeing plants growing, knowing that she can’t eat it all, I do too can take pleasure from the land. I start to think about selling a portion of the farm in order to raise some money, and then, fix up the house, and continue living here. This would cut out all the possibility of going back to America sometime soon. The longer I take to go back, the more difficult will it become. I have lots to think, but next week is the Ressurrection day, all the meaning why I still have hope. Remembering that I too can be ressurrected, perhaps not in the way I imagine, but somehow, in yet better way that only the perfect God can do.
February 4, 2011 – Unthinkable Happened
Much desired, though unthinkable, happened: my father has decided to sell the farm and move near Sao Paulo city.
I just can’t understand how a non-God sent heartbreak in my private life opened the doors to what, maybe not me, nor my brother, but my sister considers an answer to prayers that must be celebrating something like 20 years. She always mentioned to have my parents living near her so she could take care of them. But it was so remote and almost impossible, that I didn’t even consider it for prayers. I was trying to find a more painless solution made of human flesh and mind by suggesting to sell part of the farm, but keeping the house, and finding little solutions that were temporary ou doubtful such as finding a cheap caretaker or a free tenant.
The would-be cheap caretaker is only 15 and wouldn’t stay after I moved out – she is too young and shy to work by an old man; and the free tenant, in spite of confessing that it was a dream to have a free piece of land to grow vegetables, gently declined the offer. He is now more applied to find solution for us to stay in town. Volunteer work also came with volunteered suggestions. He suggested buying a piece of development, so we could build a business and a small house behind; he offered a house for sale somewhere in town; and he had more things to say as he mentioned have come to talk to us all afternoon. Fortunately, a couple of pastors were coming to pick up some donations and the conversation stopped there. I am just fearful as he said he would come back to finish the talk. What for? Just to mentioned that he is a pastor of a very tiny church he founded himself…They were the pastors that would come once in a while not to ask me out, but to ask me in – to the church services.
Alright, until the dreaded day, my father and I keep working hard to clean up the farm. He has been clearing the land covered with tall and lush weeds, selling all the rubbish he collected his lifetime, always mentioning what he is going to bring to a new home (a wheelbarrow, a sawmill, all the furniture, at least two refrigerators, all (my daughter’s stuffed animals) to my dismay. I tell him that there is no such a thing as space in city houses – at least, the size we can afford. He said he will take everything he can and leave them outside covered with plastic. Yes, I feel so positive about it. It is literately “trashy people’s house” – yellow trash.
I have been going through hundreds of letters and cards, old photos, notebooks, papers, memorabilias, old writings. I was able to get rid of many things – specially other people’s, except my writings when I was young and started my first productions. I got to keep the originals, even though, I refused to read them. Too painful to read low level literature.
I found notebooks of when I was my daughter’s age; my piano partitures I didn’t donate to a local library – I gotta keep just in case; items my mom bought for a trousseau and went unused or underappreciated (flurry blankets, old fashioned coverlets, rough sheets, bright colored towels, weird printed tablecloths, tiny table settings, cloth napkins, and other small ornamental useless pieces. But the hardest thing to donate is her crochet she made almost compulsively all her life. I can say that there are over a hundred kilos of worked material and other hundred of unused yarns. Several bags of fabric also… but these were mostly mine…projects I had and never accomplished. Even though we had four car trips full of descarted things, the house is still full.
My mother had also bought several (hundreds) of kitchen items, porcelan, crystal, plastic, glass, metal, you name it. There were boxed and put away in a large yellow cabinet in attempt to discourage stealing by a caretaker or any house worker. I don’t know if we were ever stolen, but for sure, mice did a good job in bulding a whole town, with a playground, hotel, restaurant, and all. I even found two dead mice and droppings scattered around. I put most things for donation. Before the pastors were able to come to pick it up, my cousins came by and helped themselves, thinking that “they were up for donation”, not that the donation had already a destination. I felt mad remembering that in any other move, I had to deal with vultures. Covetousness of the eyes…
I have a great sense of loss, and seen people not wanting to pay a fair price but coveting free things, don’t make any easier the process of moving. Specially for my father…He said that selling the farm is like losing a son or a piece of his heart. I sincerely hope that the lost piece can be refilled again. At least he told me he wants to buy a 42-inch TV, under my sister’s protests. I support him. Perhaps he can fill his hole with the internet (ironic speech).
My male cousin is helping us with the process. We couldn’t make without him, at least in this speed. He was adamant about selling the whole farm at once, and change the lifestyle drastically, with nothing leftover. Even though, I thought it to be a bit too rough on my father (and on me), he is right. I agreed that there must not be anything hanging to be solved later. The price is already set, and the first attempt is going to be on Monday, to our tenant.
Meanwhile, I search on the internet the real estate in our new chosen town. It is about 50 miles from Sao Paulo city, with mild climate, where Japanese community settled and developed horticulture. The home prices are high, and it seems there were no many homes for rent in downtown. I had looked into small rural properties “to live”, as they describe, in opposition to “for recreation” or “for farming”. I found pretty nices homes, with built-in bbq grill and swimming pools. The nicest ones are a bit out of our range. But I think this will be unpractical, as my parents would fall into the same problem as living on our farm – away from town facilities, and specially, a caretaker.
I confess that I am becoming so involved with the new town that I even told my daughter that we may not even move to the US. Who knows? I may find meaningful work, nice school for my daughter with lot of extra curricular activities, new places, things, and activities to explore, I may find a good yoga-pilates place, and so, so close to a metropole! I can even work there. The only thing is that…I would still be living with my parents. The positive side is that I would inherit the house that is getting up in value each year. Nice to think this way. Or…I can move nearby and have a place of my own! Who knows?
I told my daughter that God will direct us. This way, Boulder is becoming far…Specially after today that my ex-husband called worried about me landing somewhere without any support or money. He wants me to move near or with his brother (and his wife), who is not the father of my daughter to have this kind of obligation. I am becoming annoyed by their pressure to move to California instead of elsewhere. I may just stay in Brazil, specially now that my anger is subsiding and I don’t feel a real need to revenge myself of someone.
Oh, I feel like eating a tomato foccacia with onions…It’s 3:24 a.m.
Of course, no foccacia, and no even tomatoes…but I can still sabotage my hard lost kilos.
January 1 Desolation8th, 2011 –
Summer down in Brazil means rain and hot days. While part of the country is under water, suffering from the worst flood ever with possibly thousands of deaths, our farm is pretty safe for not having rivers to overflow or hills to crumble down. It rains at night, dropping the temperature a bit. During the day, the muggy weather makes our house windows be covered with mildew.
The end of the year was particularly hard on me; not because of the weather, but for some heartbreak other than bugs eating up my kale. I was so dismayed with my life, that all organic talk was left aside. I totally ignored my garden, abandoning to its fate. Just a friend comes over to hoe, not knowing which one is stronger, the man or the weeds. He doesn’t know that I have given up on it for good. I have decided to move on with my life to a larger city, somewhere in Colorado State. I threw everything up and out of my heart, and I want to start over – my life, not the garden.
I had considered going to live on one of those organic farms, but I have not had answer for the only one farm I had applied for; therefore, I changed my mind and decided to live in the city, having already chosen the neighborhood. I read that it is an older neighborhood, so I imagine that it may be downtown, with small shops and restaurants, a little bit more crowded than the rest ot the town. I have chosen Whittier for its elementary school. I thought that a public international school would be great for my daughter who no longer speaks English.
So it cooled down this evening. I went to close the entrance gate, as we do every day. The walk was exceptionally pleasant, after so many weeks of humid and hot weather. On my way, I tried to knock down the giant board that announces the Organic Horticulture Program, with my name on it, without success. So I went by chayotte vine to see if there was any fruit, observed how low the lime tree is growing, the guava tree displays dozens of green fruits and some ripe, eaten by birds (and other bugs) – this land is good for guava orchard – I observed. If I had plans for this land, I would plant guava. All the guava trees were abundant. Some even yield a fruit the size of a melon.
The orchard and the vegetable patch look desolate, covered with tall weeds and vines. The corn is way too ripe, unproper for consumption; the okra is turning tough – I haven’t gathered any, even for myself. There are also leeks, scallions, parsley all under the vines. Only the smell of celery reminded me that it may have some under those suffocating plants.
The wild and aggressive aspect of the weeds taking over reminded me of movies on Southern States where abandoned properties look this way. Totally desolate. Not desert, arid, or empty. But full, crowded, airless, opressive. Like very very sunny hot days can be opressive, so lush green vegetation can be too. It looks abandoned, in spite of all the life that exists there.
It rains right now. I love it. For as long as I remember, soft or hard rain always calms me down. It settles so many things inside my mind and my heart – at least, for a while.