04 December 2011


Upon our return from Thanksgiving in the suburbs, the lens through which I watch our life on the farm has been recalibrated.  It’s impossible to ignore the disparity in our origins.  While we come from similar families and similar values, the manifestations from the separation of just 100 miles can be quite different.  Please understand when I say different, I don’t intend it in a hierarchical sense.  There is no better or worse, just appropriate for each lifestyle.  People often ask me if I prefer living in the city or country.  I prefer both, but for different purposes.  Country living is appropriate for our current lifestyle for many reasons which are unnecessary to explore here.

The disparity provides me with endless material.   It was just last weekend Vivienne and I spent the morning shopping at Oak Brook Shopping Center with my mom and brother.  That would be the mecca for those brought up in the tradition of suburban materialism.  I'm greatly enjoying the fruits of our excursion (new jacket, tunic, sweater, knit top, and bohemian blouse-thank you mom! I’m cute again!)  Just a few days later, my father-in-law was watching Vivienne and decided to bring her along for a morning of tractor-shopping.  I guess one does that at some sort of mecca for those brought up in the tradition of rural commercial agriculture.  In order to transport her safely, he installed her car seat in the cab of his pick up.  Now that’s something one doesn’t get to experience growing up in Hondas.

My life is the perpetual alternating of redneck and paisana.  For example:

Nick stacked the functional DVD player on top of the old, broken DVD player.  I had the sudden realization that I was living a Jeff Foxworthy monologue.

I finally indulged myself in my ideal Christmas tree:  white tree, white lights, silver and blue decorations.  I like to call it European.  Nick calls it Jersey guinea.  I’m fine with either description.  I know it’s tacky.  I can’t help it!  There are somethings that will always look right to me even though society tells me otherwise:  many bracelets stacked on the same arm, excessive liquid eyeliner, and a white Christmas tree.  I think it’s beautiful and it makes me very happy.  

And then there is the garden, the biproduct of the redneck and the paisana, that is still kickin'. Yesterday, I had a very humble salad.

There is nothing remarkable about this salad other than it was harvested from my backyard on December 2nd in Northern Illinois.  Most of our lettuces couldn't withstand the frosts, but this curly cultivar is in its best condition yet.  Through September, October, and November, I mostly passed it opting for the peppery baby arugula, then the crisp romaine-like head lettuce, and lastly the burgundy and deep green leaves.  It always looked too dirty to bother cleaning, but now that there is little debris and no leaves on the ground, the curly lettuce is clean, in its prime, and has the spotlight.  It's the last lettuce standing, which is a great lesson in biodiversity.  Had we not chosen to plant six or seven lettuces, I would have never learned that each peaks in ripeness at different times, nor that each has a different resistance to the approaching hard freeze.

Also, upon getting reaquainted with the garden after a few weeks of neglect, I discovered we have broccoli.  I had relinquished any hope of harvesting the brassicas we sowed from seed this fall, but the two rows of broccoli that managed to germinate and grow through the changing weather of summer to fall have each produced a small, green head.

Along with the season's last bastion of greens, we had a meal that is a very good marriage of redneck and paisana.  If I were from the country, I might call it macaroni casserole (casseroles, I've learned, are very popular in the country).  But, since I contribute the paisana to the household, we call it pasta al forno, literally 'pasta in the oven', or baked pasta.  This came about mainly because we were seriously out of food other than our meager garden pickings and a crapload of turnips for which I have yet to find a good use--turns out there is something that isn't delicious roasted in garlic and olive oil.

We had copious amounts of milk because regardless of our schedule, we get two gallons from our local cow each week.  So upon our return from our Thanksgiving weekend, we came home to last week's two gallons and this week's two gallons.  Other than Viv, we are not big milk drinkers and I think it would be somewhat irresponsible to allow that to be her only source of nutrition for the next week, so I made a huge batch of ricotta.  Three quarters of a pound of slightly undercooked penne mixed with a generous amount of ricotta, a splash of milk, and salt and pepper baked with a romano-polenta crust made for a rustic and hearty macaroni casserole, ahem, pasta al forno.  If I had set out to make that meal, I probably would have chosen very different ingredients, but I think it made good use of our exorbitant amount of milk (there's still plenty of ricotta) and the last bit of grated romano and polenta hiding in the back of the refrigerator.

The cultural amalgam that is my life contains beauty from both parts.  Just as I once sighed at the sight of the Chicago skyline while coming South on the Edens into the city, I sigh at the silhouettes of the black cows against the caramel background of the harvested fields as they find the remaining bits of corn for their bovine breakfast.  Perhaps one day I'll come our with my own Redneck Paisana product line: Mountain Dew cannoli, a pickup truck decked out with fleck paint and a scapular on the rearview mirror, maybe some bedazzled gardening tools.  Until then, we'll watch our well-worn Anniversary Collection of The Godfather on our working DVD player nestled on top of the broken one. 


  1. I'm glad you have a white Christmas tree. Who cares what other people think? I've been wanting to try to make ricotta since I saw an easy-looking recipe on smitten kitchen. The pasta al forno looks delicious.

  2. Thank you! I'll have to check out Smitten Kitchen's recipe! This is the basic recipe I use: http://italianfood.about.com/library/rec/blr0949.htm I just strain and salt it according to use. Let's talk soon--I have to pick you're brain re empanadas! I loved the recipe you posted :)