This statement meets with some confusion to those around me. Maybe they picture me checking into a hospital and asking to be put into a vegetative coma for several months?
Which technically is an action and isn't nothing. But I am splitting hairs.
No, at the beginning of this summer I looked at my location, my life, my business and decided while the rest of the world enjoyed long summer days and weekends away I would relentlessly work. I was going to make as much cheese as I could and do as many farmers markets as possible all with the goal of doing nothing at a later date.
I even entered cheeses in competitions to create brand awareness. I had a win at American Cheese Society and not even an honorable mention at NY State Fair. Kind of like selling out on Broadway and tanking at summer stock. The state judge checked off bitter, salty, acid, and creamy all for one cheese. Hello umami? Why do we always remember the negative comments? Note to self-stop doing that.
So that is what I did. With the help of my ever eager intern Des, I miss her singing in the cheese house, and my ever patient Uncle Charlie with the herd on weekends I worked and I saved. I spent the summer forgoing any well deserved MAC purchases (if you don't know they are the most fabulous cosmetics known to man or woman) all with the plan that when the summer folk went to warmer climates and the locals just want to go to one store in their warm car and go home to their warm house (can you blame them?) I would be basking in the warmth of doing nothing.
So I should probably clarify my definition of “nothing”. My cows as we enter November will be in late lactation and can go to once a day milking. After morning milking they will saunter outside for fresh air and haylage. I will load the outdoor wood furnace and than I can return to the house with every possibility ahead of me. You see it is not the “nothing” that is important but the lack of intention and expectation. I am not planning on writing the next great American novel or learning to knit Irish cable knit sweaters and have 50 completed by Christmas. No I will just read, organize cupboards, paint a room, write, knit, wherever the day may take me. Some days I might go to the cheese house to create a new cheese or stock up on my classic aged cheeses for next summer, you see the possibilities of nothing are endless. Don't despair winter cheese will be available. The farm store will be open and I will be at the Saturday Kingston farmers market every other weekend. But the rest of time I just don’t know.
When I was a posher girl living in posher times in the city I never would have dreamed of not going somewhere to “do” or “see” something on vacation. As I look back wouldn’t a holiday at home in the city doing nothing have been wonderful? A museum, an afternoon with that golden Manhattan light and only a camera for company. I missed an opportunity but it might not be too late for you to plan on doing nothing in what still is America’s most fabulous city.
Back on the farm. My first cow, Fiesta, will calve around January 26th and the nothing will end. I will be back to twice a day milking around the time the seed catalogs start arriving in my mail box, if the snow plows don't take it down again, and I will be back to doing something. I will have intention and I will plan. So the next summer season will be bright, vibrant and successful so I can yet again do nothing.
Thank you to my loyal cheese customers for making nothing something special.
Did you know that Julia Child was fifty when she launched The French Chef? She created the celebrity chef, a title now mostly held by men. She is probably responsible for the success of public TV. Imagine what can be accomplished by a middle aged or older woman today? Are thinking women even defined by these terms of age or youth? I know we are a society that worships at the altar of youth and certain women will go to the ends of the earth to attain eternal beauty, I recently had a woman wanting to purchase cow placenta as a restorative (another story and no I didn't sell it to her).
Maybe it is a blessing never to have been endowed with beautiful perfect looks. Maybe women like Julia, six foot three and a bit odd looking, had to be brave, smart, and willing to try anything with potential of failure. That is why aging is not so scary. It is only our shell, the part of the oyster that you throw away, so what is to worry about the ridges .
I just turned 49, an age that I could not even fathom in my youth, but I feel the next big thing around every corner. I actually feel success is deserved not something that fell in my lap as I did in my twenties. More importantly I feel no validation, or lack there of, in success or failure. I am wise enough to look at both as a curious thing that is happening on a slide under a microscope. It is not even detachment I feel but analytical amusement. These are the true beauties of age.
Imagine.. it is the dead of winter, the snow falls lightly outside as the warm fire crackles indoors.
You open up your favorite old cookbook, the one with the torn newspaper and magazine recipes shoved inside for later use. You settle on a promising stew or soup recipe, one that will not bore you for days to come. ...and there it is FRESH BOUQUET GARNI.
Now fresh herbs in the store in winter are guaranteed to be expensive and sub-quality. For that reason I have tended to fudge this step with some dried herbs tied in cheese cloth on a string with not great results.
This is a quick 20 minute project that will give you joy all winter. Either pick from your garden, or purchase at the farmers market an assortment of fresh herbs. Here I used sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Wash and dry thoroughly. Place single serving assortments in small freezer bags or vacuum seal pouches. Freeze immediately. I have blanched and cold water shocked batches before which seems to hold the color better but muddles the flavors so now I go right to freezing. Also it turns it into more of a production than it needs to be.
The excellent news these bundles of flavor take up very little room in your freezer and will make you feel incredibly smart and thrifty. And who doesn't like that?
Before you say “How can you hate your job? You work for yourself, you produce healthy food, you have the life everybody dreams of. How dare you?”
Everybody hates his or her job sometimes. I don’t know him but I am sure that the Pope occasionally would rather throw on a pair of shorts and go fishing rather than Poping, but with some grumbling he puts on that silly dress and fakes that saintly smile and gets on with business. For all I know he uses some of the same techniques that I am suggesting to turn his attitude around.
As for my credentials in the matter let me say that I have had some of the best and worst jobs imaginable, and at one time or another I have hated them all. I have worked as a young freelance designer stuck in a cubicle painting endless color ways of hideous cabbage rose prints destined to be mass produced by Wal-Mart’s sleepwear division (forgive me Lord for I have sinned). I have been a founder, designer, and CEO of a successful clothing line sold globally. And today I fortunate enough to live and work in the country creating cheeses that people seem to like from cows that are not only humanely treated but also happy. Yet this very morning I hated my job. Rather to succumb to misery I forced myself through these various steps.
Step One: Clean and organize you immediate work area. Now this is fairly straightforward if you work in an office ore cubicle. Throw out the empty FedEx boxes under your desk, get rid of outdated Post-its and clean up and organize the desktop of your computer. Even if you have to create a folder called “To Be Dealt With Later” get rid of those floating documents. Every one of them is a distraction preventing you from being focused and enjoying doing a good job.
Now if you work at home or on a farm or in the great outdoors it get’s tricky. Draw an imaginary 20-foot circle around where you are working (if you have Wicca tendencies use salt, it can’t hurt) clean and organize that and only that. Don’t look for trouble and distractions beyond that boundary it will derail you before you have even started. If I am working in the cheese house that will be my focus. I will not get distracted by the weeds that need pulling outside the door. If I do I am motivational toast.
Step Two: Now that everything is tidy and you have actually accomplished something (good job) take care of the one task that you have been dreading and putting off the most. Now if that was cleaning your office, move on to step three. But if it is something more unpleasant tackle it. Have you been dreading emailing or (gulp) calling the customer/client that is never happy? Calling a supplier that you are not happy with to report the problem and negotiate a discount? Weeding the raised beds? Shoveling cow manure out of gutters? Whatever it is just do it. It is tying you to unhappiness. CUT THE CORD.
Step Three: Breathe. Smile. The worst is over. Now it is time to take on a task that you enjoy and are good at. Here is how it worked for me this morning. Woke up at 5 am. I am not a morning person but my job requires this early rising to milk the cows. I hate my job. Got myself out to the barn tidied up the milk house and mangers. Milked cows. Cleaned again. Paid two bills that were not even due yet but needed paying. I love the look of money in my bank accounts and it pains me to part with it. Deep breath the worst is over. Started making a batch of cheese in the cheese house and writing this blog. Both are enjoyable and the fact that I am a kick ass multitasker makes me feel good about my job and myself. Did I really say I hated it earlier?
If you have followed these steps and have come out feeling good about yourself and your job. Congratulations you are where you should be for the present moment. I say the present moment because we always should be questioning and testing our lives and where they are heading. If you still hate your job there might be a legitimate reason. Proceed to step four.
Step Four: OK, first thing, don’t do this step at work. There is something a little tacky about making a list of what you hate about your job while at work being paid to do something other than making list of how many ways your job sucks.
Finish your day at work doing the best job you can. When it is time to leave don’t go and buy that pair of pumps that you have been wanting and now deserve because your job is sucking the life force out of you. Don’t meet friends for martinis because chances are they hate their jobs too and all that will happen is tomorrow you will wake up still hating your job with a hangover on top of it.
No, go home. If your home situation is less than quiet go to a library or coffee house alone with pen and paper. Notice I did not say your laptop? This requires long hand and some scratching out later. Draw a line down the center of the page. One side will read THINGS I LIKE ABOUT MY LIFE the other THINGS I WANT TO CHANGE ABOUT MY LIFE. Now notice I didn’t suggest you to write things that I want to change about myself. This is not the place for writing about losing 20 pounds or being nicer to the counter help at Starbucks. This is your life.
Fourteen years ago, before I gave up the city and moved to the country and farming, I was at Step Four. I was a train wreck Step Four. Things I liked about my life were my loft, my success, and the media attention I was growing used too. Don’t judge.. I know it sounds superficial. The things I didn’t like were a much longer list.
I felt I had stopped learning and being challenged. I wanted to feel connected to the outdoors and the world around me. I wanted to be proud of myself rather than be told I should be, etc.
That list brought me to where I am today. There may come a day that I will need to take Step Four again and I hope I will do it bravely and honestly.
As for today the first batch of cheese is ready to have the curd cut, this blog is done, and I no longer hate my job.
Now when my friend Gary Rosenberger made me this breakfast smoothie he swore me to secrecy under penalty of death if I revealed it's ingredients. Now anyone that knows Gary can attest that he is a card carrying liberal and wouldn't know how to fire weapon to save his life. besides all those AKAs he shot with Howard Stern in Nam, of course. So I'll take my chances.
So he promised that it would keep you going from breakfast till dinner. Now Gary is a writer so he doesn't do much, so I was skeptical how it would perform on a person who actually works and expends calories. Tested, proven effective.
So here is the recipe minus all the pesky measurements that just freeze up creative types like us:
NIGHT BEFORE: peal and break in half ripe bananas, cut tops off strawberries(which by the way are coming in season at your local farmer's market, sorry for the plug) put in freezer overnight.
THIS IS CRUCIAL because it negates the need for ice which we all know is the down fall of smoothies.
MORNING OF: Drink coffee as you will be operating machinery. put some of the banana and strawberries in blender.
Add big dollops of yogurt. Gary, being a writer makes his own, I have no time for this foolishness and buy my friend Shannon's already delicious Cowbella plain.
Splash of milk
One raw egg. Please do not use grocery store eggs for this, they have been hanging out in bad places for weeks before the see the dairy isle. Uber fresh local only. Available at the farmer's market( that's two plugs)
A glug of local real maple syrup ( you know by now where that is available)
Pulse till smooth
Tastes great and you will not think of food till dinner at which time you will have a maddening craving for something with lot's of Betty Acres Farm Modern Milkmaid Farmstead cheese available this Saturday at the Pakatakan and Kingston Farmer's Markets......plug 4.
See you there,
The first Farmers Market of the season in Delhi was today. I helped Aissa run her farm stand and I had a blast. I never realized how much work goes into these kinds of things. I have never really been to a Farmers Market before; I have been to many flea markets and such but I've never spent time at a Farmers Market. Today there were so many amazing, locally grown and hand crafted products. There was everything from flowers, honey, crafts, cheese, produce and pickles. The street was lined with farm stands and it was phenomenal. Every single one of the vendors I met were very polite to an unfamiliar face. They were kind hearted, helpful, and proud of their work. They should be, I know I would be!
I've always heard about local farmers and local growers and such, and I've always heard about how much healthier it is, how much more beneficial it is for everyone to shop locally, but I had always found it kind of hard to do so. I was either too lazy to go to the Farmers Markets, or I never took the time to stop. I didn't really think about it and it was unfortunate of me. I never quite realized how much variety there was in locally grown products. Now that I've spent time at a Farmers Market, meeting all of the vendors and looking at their lovely hard work, I realize how much better buying locally really is. It's helpful to the community, beneficial for your health, and honestly sometimes I think it's easier than driving hours away for groceries when most of what you buy at a grocery store is available locally.
Blog and Photos by Desiarie Fairbairn
I was fascinated by the idea of working on a farm and learning the cheese making process, from cow to cheese. My first impression of Betty Acres Farm was that it was a small, clean, well kept farm. It didn't seem like it was going to be too much work, and Aissa seemed to be a wonderful, polite woman who has exactly what she can handle at Betty Acres. I know at some farms, with too many cattle, it's extremely easy to end up in over your head. Aissa handles herself and her farm very well.
I had no Idea how much work there is in the cheese making process. It's a lot of hard, repetitive work, but I think it's fun work. Waking up at six in the morning to go out and milk cows; each with their own quirky personality, pasteurizing the milk, separating curds and whey, pressing the curds into wheels and aging them. It's a lot of time and effort to put into something, and you certainly have to know what you're doing because, trust me, it isn't easy. Even if it isn't easy, it's enjoyable and there is a lot of love and a lot of pride that goes into the work. Knowing that you woke up each morning and milked the cows, and watching that milk go through each and every step of the cheese making process is amazing. Knowing that you put so much effort into something and ended up with such a wonderful product is one of the best feelings you can have. I haven't been on the farm long, but I definitely see why Aissa does what she does every single day. It's worth it.
By Desiarie Fairbairn @ Betty Acres Farm
Thank you for your hard work, beautiful photos, and fresh perspective.A
Kingston Winter Farmer's Market:
On the first and third Saturday of every month this winter I have participated in the farmer's market in Kingston from 10-2:00.
kingstonfarmersmarket.org runs year round on Wall Street in historic Kingston. During the summer the street is closed down and the market goes outside while during the winter it is in the Old Dutch Church.
I am always looking to keep my diet close to 80% local (can't give up coffee!) and around March I am running pretty low on frozen and canned veggies and meats from the summer.
Much to my relief the market provides are wide array of vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, and baked goods.
Whether you are looking to prepare a heart stew of venison and root vegetables with some crusty bread or a crisp raw carrot and kohlrabi slaw it is all there and very competitively priced.
Kingston is leading the way by excepting food benefit programs such as SNAP. All people should be able to afford the best in local,healthy, fresh food not just those with extra disposable income.
On a selfish note I love that the folks from Kingston adore good cheese and tell their friends.
I will be doing Kingston as one of my summer markets every Saturday.
When I received a call on a Sunday afternoon about a visiting chef wanting to see my farm and sample my cheeses first thing in the morning, I was frankly unenthusiastic. I asked that the chef be questioned if he was doing a cheese board and if he was featuring regional cheeses, and being assured that, "yes, he was," I was a bit happier, set a time, and got on Google.
Chef Antoine Westermann not only has been awarded three Michelin stars, but is known for his dedication to searching out the best in regional and seasonal ingredients. Imagine my total about-face in attitude. Chef Antoine was up touring breeders of exotic game birds for his soon to be open Le Coq Rico in NYC and had expressed an interest in cheese of the Catskills.
He arrived with Philippe and Patricia from the restaurant, and I was immediately struck with their enthusiasm and comfort level on being on a working farm. This wasn’t their first rodeo!
The thermometer was below zero so the “girls” were in the barn. So we started there. The cow’s were introduced to accolades of how lovely they are (cows like that), and I started kicking hay back into the mangers (they are pretty but messy eaters) without being asked Chef Antoine mimicked my sweeping leg motion and I knew he had farmer in his heart.
After the source was introduced, we proceeded to put on disposable booties (no complaints) to tour the cave and production facility.
Normally, I host tasting in the farm store/shipping room but it being so cold, I invited everyone into the plant where I was pasteurizing milk to taste some cheese. Of course the regulations regarding fresh cheese in France are totally different (better?) so I explained that all cheese under sixty days old must, by law, be pasteurized and that I pasteurize at the lowest legal limit to minimize the loss of flavor and nutrients.
After tasting my cheeses I offered to introduce other local cheese makers but was told that they had their cheese board.
I may have my NYC restaurant. It is about quality not quantity.
Trading her stilettos for muck boots, Aissa O’Neil left a successful career as a fashion designer in NYC to pursue farming full time in 2001. After years of study and apprenticeships in cheesemaking she opened her on-farm creamery 2013.