Category Archives: travel

Left my animals

Did you read that book, The World Without Us? It’s about what would happen if humans disappeared off the face of the earth. Cities would rust, sewer systems would explode, parks would go wild. I’ve been thinking about what would happen if I disappeared–the bunnies would click on their lix-it bottles, the goats would quietly go feral, the bees would swarm over and over again. Knowing this, when I booked my trip to the East Coast, I began ferrying animals here and there. Which always gives me a heart attack.

Last Tuesday I took Bebe and Ginger the goats to a gorgeous goat farm in Vacaville called Castle Rock. I popped them into a big dog crate and drove north. The scenery was gorgeous–green rolling hills, a farm with a bunch of white geese, old crumbling barns. My friends S and J came along because they were interested in goat breeding. Yep, Ginger and Bebe are getting knocked up. We released them out into the pack, and Bebe immediately began head butting everyone. Ginger puffed up. Establishing their rank in the herd. I think they’ll have a nice vacation. I mean, there are six bucks to choose from. The owner, Sarah, and I decided to hook Bebe up with a young buck named Harvey; and Ginger up with a dark and handsome Guy Noir. They’ll stay up there for about two weeks. For days after dropping them off, I thought I could hear them shifting around on the back porch, or nickering at night, begging for some oats. Just my imagination.

Thursday I packed up all the rabbits, and relocated them to San Lorenzo. It must have made a funny sight, several cages stack up in my truck, with black and white rabbits hopping around. They seem happy with the new cages that we built at LaBrie Farm. I bought a whole watering system but couldn’t figure out how to keep it from dripping, so they’re all using bottle waterers until I can get back to fix it. The deck at my house is totally abandoned looking now. I’m not sure what to do with the new space. I was thinking about doing a deep clean, and building a cheese cave out there. It’s a constant 50 degrees no matter what season. Would definitely have to mouse-proof that.

Saturday morning I planted every seedling that I had started. Green bean seedlings had been languishing on top of the duck car, in the garden there were some sad looking tomato starts, basil, and cauliflower, in the laundry room rampicante zuchinis and cucumbers. All planted and deeply watered in before our dawn flight to New York.

I’m in New York still. I heard it rained in Oakland, so I’m imagining the green little ones speckled with moisture and loving it; the goats out in the peaceful fields getting it on; the bunnies snuggled up in the barn in San Lorenzo. Yep, I’m homesick.

I’m reading in the DC area April 29, 7pm at the Arlington Public Library.

Back from Africa

I’m back safe and sound, although still jet-lagged even days after touching down.

Since I was on assignment for Food and Wine, I can’t let out too many juicy details. You’ll have to wait until July to read the article. But in the meantime, here are a few photos…

This is one of the farmer’s markets in Nairobi. Patrick from Micato Safari is in the background.

This is the chef I was profiling, with two half-wild cheetas. They were amazingly vocal, letting out purrs and chirps. So gorgeous. They were rescued from a sure death outside of Somalia.

Though this is kind of a boring photo, it’s how I’ll remember Kenya. I took quite a few bush planes to get from here to there. Looking down, all you see are little farms, or shambas, making a mosaic out of the land, with small charcoal fires burning.

I’m incredibly happy to be back home, and will start posting about the farm again soon.

Haiti and Africa

I’m leaving soon for Kenya. I’m doing a story about a chef who is sourcing from local tribes and supporting organic farm and garden operations all over Kenya. Lucky me, I’ll avoid all this rain. I’ll be away from the blog for about two weeks…

In the meantime, I wanted to let you know about a bake sale to raise money for Haiti relief. It’s a great idea–who doesn’t want to help Haitians? and who doesn’t want to eat the most delicious bakery items ever made? I wish I could attend, but I’ll be long gone. Here are the details:

Back Home

Those words: back home, make me so happy.

My mom called to tell me she had counted, and I had been to 10 different venues in almost as many days during my east coast tour. I was in denial about those numbers, but looking back on it, yup, she was right. Funny thing was, it never felt like work. Mostly because of the awesome people I met along the way.

First thing I did after I landed in New York City was to go to the New York Restoration Project offices, where an awesome urban farmer and tree steward had invited me to visit. After I had a gander at the offices–gorgeous and seems like a fun place to be–we went to the Spotted Pig for dinner. There we met up with the Pig’s forager and ate some yummy British pub food. The next morning I got a tour of some Bronx gardens. I can’t believe how much unused space is there! As we wandered, we met community gardeners and gawked at what people had planted. One proud urban farmer showed us his prized collard green patch. I loved the little houses people build in the gardens.

After the tour, I went to Dewitt-Clinton high school in the Bronx. This great organization, called Behind the Book, provides kids at this and other “inner city” high schools books and then invites authors to come talk to the kids. I was flattered to be included in this program. I loved meeting the kids, who were so excited, and appeared to have actually read my book!

A few hours later, I found myself at the Horticulture Society of New York, giving a reading and presentation. The HSNY is so f-ing cool. They do job training for guys post-prison, they have an amazing plant gallery and of course, a wonderful library. Many sweet people came to hear me talk, and I felt very loved–especially by Owen from Just Food.

The next day, I took care of some business during the day, then did a reading at Vox Pop in Flatbush. Such an adorable audience! My favorite folks were a freegan couple who ended up bartering with me for a copy of my book in exchange for a hand-made knife. I definitely got the better end of the deal: the knife is freaking amazing. And sharp.

I then headed to New England for the next four days, doing readings in Providence, Boston, Portland, and Portsmouth. What can I say? I love Providence! There I met the most amazing group of people who run the Southside Community Land Trust and City Farm, right in downtown Providence.

This photo is Rich Pederson, the main farmer at City Farm, standing next to his raspberry forest. He is a total rockstar, picked me up at the train station with raspberries to munch on. I got really inspired by his community building ideas: like block parties! rain water barrel building! vegetable start propagation and sales! We had a really warm, funny conversation in association with Providence Slow Food and the Unitarian church. I also got to meet and stay with Poor Girl Gourmet blogger, Amy McCoy. She is sooo fun.

Boston was beautiful and freezing cold. Boston Slow Food really turned out people for my talk/reading, which was paired with a class on how to keep urban chickens. I also got the chance to see my dear old friend Joe Waldwell, painter extraordinaire. He played me a Quiet Riot song to get me geared up for my reading. Let’s just say, I was amped up! I have to go back to Boston because I missed seeing the famous Allandale Farm and the Food Project. Lucky for me, I think I’ll be hitting Boston again for the paperback book tour in June.

That night, I took a bus to Portland Maine and found myself in a car that smelled like goat. Thank god. I love goat cars, there aren’t enough of them in this world. The driver, Margaret Hathway, is the author of The Year of the Goat, and she was wonderful. She and her husband Karl live outside of Portland, where they farm and make cheese, raise two adorable human children, and prepare delicious foods like beef stew and Pear custard tarts. Yum!

In the morning, we went to Portland, had breakfast at Aurora Provisions (sage latkes AND beet sausage hash, good lord!). I always say this: every city I go to has an urban farm, you just have to ask. Portland, Maine was no exception.There’s a great org, Cultivating Community, who teaches local youth about farming, they have a little orchard, goats, and hella vegetables. I love their spirit. Stuffed and happy, I read at the fabulous Rabelais Books, the most amazing cookbook, food, farming, and antiquarian bookstore ever. It was the inspiration for the equally lovely Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

Are you exhausted yet? Well, next I went to Portsmouth, NH for their 50-mile Thanksgiving Dinner where I did a little reading and talk about my farm. There was a “Nor’Easter” storm or something like that. Wonderful, slightly terrifying rain. I missed seeing the cool historic gardens there in Portsmouth, though. Next time?

Back in NYC by 3am on Sunday. Just in time to rush to Brooklyn and teach my rabbit slaughter class. Hmmm. How I managed to make sense and gently guide my students to self-empowerment, I am not sure. But, the class was great, the students were eager, and the rabbits were healthy. Here’s one reporter’s take on the day. If I had seen the “bad” students, I would’ve clocked them. But like I said: tired.

I spent the last few days in New York in an eating-fueled torpor: going to a mind-blowingly good dinner put on by a gaggle of chefs from the West Coast (Chez Panisse/OPEN) and the East Coast (Diner and Marlowe & Daughter/Sons) and Meatpaper Magazine. I cannot forget how delicious the Blue Point oysters of Long Island are. The cooks made dishes from rabbit, and I must say, it was outstanding. Highlights included the rabbit terrine, the Boudin Blanc, and the frisee salad. A dinner host on another night made the most delectable Long Island duck breasts, with macaroons for dessert. Stunning.

Now I’m back at home, processing (obviously) everything I did in New York and New England. The goats are doing great: Bebe’s back in heat today, Hedwig’s coat is still luscious, Ginger is as dainty as ever. The chickens are all molting. The rabbits are getting big, and my new buck, Mr. Spider is becoming social and an adventurous eater. The garden is sprouting new seeds–beet, carrot, favas–and producing fruit–white genoa figs, Orange Cox apples, rhubarb, limes. The bees are enjoying the unseasonably warm days. And then there was Bill, who takes care of everything while I’m gone.

What’s next? Working on a new book, curing olives, making cheese, planning some trips. But mostly enjoying the wonders of home.

Talking turkey in Austin

No one brought a camera for the turkey slaughter class in Austin, including me. It was more personal that way.

Heck, it was personal on so many levels. First off, one of my best friends in the world hosted the class at her little urban farm in East Austin. Leilani is from the Bay Area and I have been missing her for a few years now as she’s settled into life in Austin. Part of settling there involved raising chickens and turkeys. She and her beau, Luke, starting keeping a few Rio Grande turkeys, the oldest relative to the original turkey of North America.

Instead of just buying turkeys every year, they reasoned, they would retain a breeding pair and let the tom and hen go for it. This spring, the turkeys mated secretly, and the hen hatched out 8 adorable little poults. Tom and mom protected the poults, showed them what to eat, draped their wings over the babies at night. When I first saw the poults, they were almost full grown, five months old. And frankly, they were ready to eat.

I had come to Austin for the Texas Book Festival to be on a panel with a famous vegetarian, Jonathan Safran Foer; a professor; and a bad boy chef named Jason Sheehan (for that round-up, see here). Like any book related trip, I wanted to do some hands-on work. It was a delicate issue–err, Leilani, can I kill one of your turkeys? and teach other people how to raise turkeys…at your house? Any other friend would have been annoyed. Leilani, on the other hand, was delighted. She loves hosting parties and doing workshops.

And so, the four people who could make it to a Halloween turkey slaughter class arrived that Saturday, dressed for the occasion, ready to learn. I was charmed by the easy-going nature of Texans, their good humor, their independence. That was why they were there. After an hour discussing the ins and outs of turkey husbandry, we went up to the coop to collect our girl for slaughter. Leilani grabbed her, I did some wrangling–these were almost wild turkeys!–and we brought her down to the burning sage area. The turkey seemed mildly curious, we said our thanks and goodbyes and got out the loppers (my new dispatching implement). Her death was swift, with good intentions from all of us. Then we dipped her in hot water, gathered around the table, and plucked all her feathers away.

The difficult part–the real reason for anyone to take a class like mine, was the evisceration. I showed people my almost fail-safe method to avoid contaminating the meat. This is the thing that trips up most people, and by showing them this, I feel like I am really imparting some important, empowering knowlege. Someone fished out the lungs. Someone else examined the gizzard, cut it open, and saw what the turkey had been eating. And then our turkey was all cleaned up. And she was beautiful, with perfect conformation, wonderful black feet, meaty breast area (but not abnormal like those Standard Whites). She had been born on this farm, lived a great life, and now was ready for eating.

Almost. First we put the bird in some salted water for a few hours, just to get any residual blood out. Then we rinsed and dried the turkey off, wrapped it in a tea towel and stowed it in the fridge to rest.

While the turkey rested, we were invited to a great dinner party at Boggy Creek Farm, an urban farm nearby. The farmers–Carol Ann and Larry–have been farming in Austin since 1991, and have a famous farm stand that Austinites flock to every week. I was so amazed how sweet and friendly Carol Ann and Larry were, they showered me with gifts like Holly Honey and smoked tomatoes. The dinner, cooked by Elizabeth from Farmhouse Delivery, was off the hook–local blue cheese and apples, arugula salad, and seafood stew made with local shrimp and fish, and finally persimmon pudding. Holy crap, Texans eat good!

I was only in Texas for a few days, so I left Leilani and Luke instructions for cooking the turkey and hoped for the best. Chefs had told me heritage birds need high heat, over a shorter period of time, and the turkey should be rotated every fifteen minutes or so. They also said to remove the legs and roast or braise them for a little longer. Leilani seemed a bit skeptical–their last turkey had just been okay. Today Leilani called me to give me the report. After four days of resting in the fridge, she rubbed it with olive oil, salt and pepper and put it in the oven.

“I didn’t turn it every 15 minutes,” she admitted. Despite that, the turkey came out great–roasted at 400 degrees for a little less than two hours. The breast meat was tender and juicy, the legs were perfectly delicious. She sounded like they are going to harvest the rest of the turkeys, keeping the tom and hen and following the cycle again next year. After I hung up the phone with Leilani, I felt so proud of her–of us–for raising, preparing and cooking our own Thanksgiving turkey, with love.

Rabbit Class: Brooklyn

I know, I know, first there was the chicken class in Kansas City. And then there is the upcoming turkey workshop in Austin, TX this Saturday. And now, I’d like to announce the Brooklyn rabbit class.

The Complete Rabbit, Brooklyn, NY November 15

Rabbits are the new chicken. More and more urban farmers are discovering the benefits of raising rabbits for meat in the city: bunnies are quiet, prefer to be kept in shady locations, reproduce quickly, and can be fed scraps.

This class will cover rabbit basics: housing, sourcing food for them on a budget, breeding, and harvesting. A quick and humane technique for killing meat rabbits will be demonstrated, as well as dressing and preparing the rabbit for the table.

Following the slaughter portion of the class, there will be a three hour break, and class will resume at Marlow and Daughter for a hands-on butcher and cooking class with Samin Nosrat. She will demonstrate how to extract the most flavor from your rabbit, with recipes for a rich stock, kidney and liver paste, Tuscan rabbit ragu and tips on how to best season, grill and braise the meat.

What: Complete Rabbit
Where: for legal reasons this class is being held at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn; once enrolled, we will give you the name and address
When: Sunday, November 15, 1pm-4pm how-to and slaughter; with butchery part of class starting at 7pm at Marlow and Daughter in Brooklyn.
Cost: $100
Number of students: 16 maximum, students will work in pairs with a shared rabbit and then take home half a rabbit.
If you are interested in the class, please email me: novellacarpenter at gmail dot com and I will tell you how to register.

So some might wonder, why is it that in every city I travel to, something has to die?

As an urban farmer I’ve been doing all these things–planting, breeding, harvesting–in the private world of my little farmlette. After being on book tour for a few months (on and off), I came to know that it was possible to just go from town to town doing a power point presentation and never get my hands dirty. This seemed unbearably isolating. In fact, I started calling my physical body “The Carcass” while I was on tour. As in, The Carcass boards plane at noon, then is on book panel at 3pm. Fed Carcass dinner, early to bed, then meet for coffee with a local newspaper writer where Carcass says tantalizing things about urban farming movement.

But, you see, what the carcass really wants to do is hang out with the chefs at the local restaurant, help organize an event with the local food rabblerousers, and perhaps teach a class that will help other urban farmers. So, that was the motivation.

Now that Samin (the chef) and I have been actually teaching the classes, I realized that there is a huge hunger out there for people to connect to their food. Maybe they are raising chickens themselves and want to learn the best practice for culling a rooster. Maybe they have been thinking about raising turkeys but don’t know how to start. Maybe they are disturbed by factory farming and want to know their meat by raising it themselves. All of the people I’ve encountered so far are fired up after our classes. Something as intimidating as processing your own animal suddenly makes sense, it is doable, and here’s the thing–it is kind of beautiful. I remember the first time I learned how to kill a turkey. It opened my eyes to the entire world. I suddenly saw connections between me and my ancestors. I felt connected and reverential for the animals we eat. I also felt skilled and useful. It makes me proud to pass that feeling on. And so, I do.

If you can’t do the rabbit class, I’ll be at the following places in New York City:

November 10, Presentation. Horticultural Society of New York, 6pm

November 11, Reading. Vox Pop cafe, 1022 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY, 7pm

Hope to meet you soon…If I start to look like a carcass, slap me!