Friday, October 30, 2015

Chapter 1: Ring of FIRE

Image by Holly Carlisle

If there's anyone would spend all their extra resources renovating a two hundred year old historic barn over the course of 3 long years, only to install a chandelier featuring 150 lit taper candles at it's christening -- it's us at saipua...

Our barn 2 years ago...the right half is the side we've restored and will be used for our new education initiative at Worlds End, the left half will be restored in the coming year to create a bunk house for visitors. 

At one point in the day, as we were directing apprentices to shove fall foliage into the ring of fire hanging in the barn, I paused and called over Amy, a woman who - whilst with child - rode the Mighty Anaconda with me at Zoom Flume water park. Amy reassured me (thats what friends are for, encouraging dangerous celebratory acts?) and the show went on.

[This reminded me of my favorite scene in ze film TOP GUN where Iceman and Maverick spat over the danger of a recent in-flight maneuver. It is relevant since all our ram lambs were named after fighter pilots from Top Gun. And is triply relevant since our ram lambs present homoerotic behaviors (as they arguably do in Top Gun) starting around the age of 6 weeks including but not limited to attempted mountings of each other around sunset.]

But let me back up and tell the whole story.

Photo by Heather Waraksa
We've always known that we were going to eat some of our lambs. This is part of flock maintenance (culling weak sheep or ram lambs that can't be bred back to their mothers or sisters) but it is also part of being a meat eater and having livestock. At some point months ago it occurred to me that we should use the first cull to celebrate all the things that have happened here on the farm in the four years since we've had it. And to celebrate the completion of one side of our massive barn; the side that will serve as the event space/activity center of the farm -- the hub for our education programming at Worlds End.

We would roast a whole lamb. And there was only one person I would entrust with this rather sensitive matter.

I met Samin in Oakland years ago on a coffee date with our now mutual friend Greta. It was Greta I was meeting and Samin tagged along and she was one of those people that hugs strangers, and I do not hug strangers. So there was that.

There's little and everything to be said for first impressions. In the years since, Samin has become one of my dearest friends. She has an acute sensitively that I rarely find in people. I treasure time I get to spend with her. She makes me feel like myself. Also, she is the best cook in the world. So there is that.

Samin came for a week and was here on the farm working on her book for most of the time. When Doug came to slaughter the rams a few days before the feast she was up in her room writing (she is working on a book called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat which, upon it's release in 2017, will become the cooking bible of our time).

When it was over I called her out to talk to Doug - and in a language I did not fully understand, she directed him on how to butcher the three lambs; some for the feast and some for my freezer for winter. The day was loaded. I recall details of it now, weeks later, with the sharpest, detailed focus. I will - I am - writing more about what it is like to know the animals you eat. To know them so intimately. To be there when they are born, and, to be there when they die. I am not able to summize it right yet. I know that I am in a sort of awe, and that I hold the whole experience with an abundance of gratitude. Samin eased this process for me; she leant solemn honor to the age old act of raising the food you eat.

It took the saipua army one week to prepare the farm. Mark and Jennell, apprentices visiting from Dublin and Detroit led the efforts by carrying 60 tipi poles out to our farthest field to erect 'Tipi Village' a place where many people would stay, get drunk, sing like Karen Dalton around a campfire and thankfully NOT DROP ACID. (note to staff: everything gets back to me)

Outhouses were built. Benches and tables were constructed to seat 80 in the barn for dinner. Glasses and plates were purchased, civil war era three tine forks (a nod to the time periods of our barn!) were sourced on ebay. Napkins were dyed, streamer poles were placed, indian corn was nailed to a tree at the entrance to the farm as if to announce to visitors; you might be in the right place...

The day before the feast, Phoebe arrives from Vermont. We are thrown right into the truck together, driving up to pick up the lamb from Doug the butcher, who I keep referencing, and who I should also mention has a really weird sense of humor. We arrive at Doug's house. He brings out the butchered lamb and it seems unreal. He tells us how nice they are, how well finished (meaning there is lots of nice fat on them - which instills a sense of pride in me. All on grass. Our grass! The grass Eric painstakingly managed all summer by moving the sheep every three days. The grass that has, year by year improved with various cover crops, sheep manure and mowing. 

Back at the farm with the meat (the pelts and the heads) we back the pickup truck up to the house and use the tailgate to further prepare the meat. Samin is a salt fanatic, which is to say she KNOWS how to salt - a skill that many people overlook, or fail to consider the importance of. We pick up the meat early in order to salt it and let it sit with salt overnight. Samin and Phoebe do this work by headlamp, the dogs braced with excitement, wild eyed under their feet. They give me some bones to take down to the maremmas. Someone asks if that's weird; to feed sheep to the sheep protecting dogs. It's not weird. I walk the bones out to Pucci first in the lower fields with the rams and then up to Blondie in the upper field with the ewes.  

[There is a point in the film Sweetgrass (a documentary about the last real American cowboys who drive sheep 150 miles up into the mountains of Montana for summer pasture) where a sheep is killed by a coyote. The maremma dogs - who live with the sheep to protect them - devour the dead sheep. The film explains that the dogs would never kill a sheep, but if something else kills it they'll eat it because they are starving, and because they are dogs. I find this so extraordinary.]

Photo by Holly Carlisle
The next morning the fires start around 7:30 am. We borrow an Asado from Kinderhook farm, a crucifix-like contraption used to roast a whole lamb. One lamb is not enough so Samin and Phoebe cook legs and shoulders in various ways. It is like a lamb divining. The fire circle contained three distinct fires for different purposes; and these women commanded the circle for 14 hours making magic. They become smoke sisters. 

Our kitchen garden, a few steps away, is pillaged for brussels sprout, kale, tomatoes, and carrots.
Samin and Phoebe are like magicians roasting pumpkins in the coals, cooking lamb three ways (why not?)… a green tomato chermoula results from the pit that could move heaven and earth. There comes into being a black tahini sauce that marries a pumpkin puree in a ceremony attended by christmas lima beans and homemade harrissa. Samin is a flavor oracle. 

We decorate. The ring of fire, as first mentioned in this post is constructed. Tables are set sparingly (what do the florists do for their own party flowers? ah ha, NONE!). A playlist is constructed with speed and maximum efficiency in the 11th hour up in my office over coffees, lacroix and chocolate by SoundsDisatrous (Deanna) herself.

Photo by Holly Carlisle.

Holly Carlisle arrives and lends her epic calm and even keel to what is starting to feel like a snowball rolling down a hill. We steel away to the bathroom where she does my makeup (certainly a first on the farm) and are greeted by a harem of saipua ladies and their secrets. Outside cooking continues and guests are arriving and people are heading to archery, Eric's usual solitary evening meditation now joined by a gaggle of novices. Arrows fly all over and he seems really happy.

Photo by Holly Carlisle
Photos by Heather Waraksa

Photos by Heather Waraksa
Photo by Holly Carlisle
 At a certain hour our little elves steel away to light the ring and the barn doors are swung open to reveal our new (old) barn...the first chapter in the Worlds End story book.

After dinner when people start meandering out to the fire the soundtrack Deanna and I built takes a turn towards disco, and the ring catches fire. The disco ball drops as if on on cue. I have a moment, pouring wine from an double magnum bottle brought by my friend Sarah who knows me too well, where I think; this is saipua. This is what we've worked so hard to attain in the last 10 years; the strongest community of people in one place celebrating what can be possible - the best parts of being human and the fullest expression of hard work. 

Thank you so much to everyone who traveled to share this really special night with us -- thank you to Samin, what would I do without you? and to Phoebe for her energy and butchering skills. To my parents for all their help along the way and for buying fire extinguishers at the last minute. Thank you to all our friends and family who came from farm away (it is called Worlds End..) and were put to work upon arrival. In the next chapter I won't have you all hustling so hard, I promise. 

There has been so much momentum for us this year at saipua and at the farm. We are on the verge of some really amazing things and it's thanks to all of you in your various orbits around us.
If I could have had all of you there, I would have.
Someday I will, in one way or another. 

Until then, I might encourage you to live a bit dangerously. Because it's in those fiery, runaway sort of moments where the really interesting stuff of life happens.

Monday, October 19, 2015


With Saipua soap-maker Susan Ryhanen
Sunday October 25th 1-5pm
Saipua Studio
147 Van Dyke Street, Brooklyn

In this intensive, hands on workshop each student will make their own batch of olive oil soap while learning the basic tenants of the cold-processed method. 

Each student will be given the following tools to use in class AND to take home:

- One of Saipua's handmade 3 lb. wooden soap molds 
- A soap mixing bucket
- A ‘stick blender’ (so critical for making soap without hand stirring for hours)
- A complete list of suppliers where you can mail order supplies like essential oils and various butters and natural additives.
- Recipes for making additional soaps

The idea behind the course is to empower students to make their own soap at home afterwards…right on time for holiday gift giving.
Class cost is $350
Questions, or to register email Susan(at)
Class limited to 9 students.

Friday, October 2, 2015

summer/ long post.

I've been paralyzed. Trying to write about the summer, to sum it up for you. Package it, including all the nuances of this particular summer, it's weather, it's business, it's people. The things that made it different and notable; the new kids at saipua: Alex, Vanessa, Taryne, Maurine, the lambs.

The things that are always the same, the ice cream cones, my birthday, the vegetables and the storms.


The iris. My iris. The iris we grew -- and how big of a deal it was because it's why we farm, to have iris, not so many, but more every year and only the colors I want, and I can cut them just to fill our shitty kitchen with them. It felt like the most luxurious few weeks of my life.

The T Magazine piece. The best press we've ever had. It felt so good, and made me feel really proud. Shortly after it came out I visited my parents who, in typical parental dilligence had read the comments online, and pointed out one from a negative-nancy type who wrote something about me throwing tantrums because I couldn't have the flowers I wanted, when I wanted them. Which Eric and I now laugh about constantly, because IF ONLY she knew the sort of tantrums I throw. Always been a tantrum thrower. Like when I couldn't go to the mall and I threatened to slit my wrists (parents ignoring me over coffee on the porch...I think I've told you that one) or whenever I lost in the family game of rummy. There's a point in a tantrum of sudden clarity and self awareness, and edge of cliff sort of moment where you think -- am I really going to let this out, the moment before the runaway effect.

This is something I reserve almost exclusively for Eric.

The other side of love; the screaming circuitous arguments about who is working harder...I think probably such a common relationship snag. Even if you are in a relationship that doesn't include running a business and building a farm I bet you can relate to it. To say the farm has tested us would be an understatement. Mookie.

Labor day rolled around. My favorite holiday - the official clank to mark the beginning of fall. In his book The Vox, Nicholson Baker writes about a sexual encounter... 'the clank of a belt buckle indicating the start of something serious.' That's how I think of labor day. Coming up for air you look around and think this is happening... an all too hotly anticipated freefall from the singularity in early September, after which you can no longer wear white. It spirals out messily and then it's over too fast.

If we can go from a sexual autumnal metaphor to the topic of canning tomatoes, then lets.
For all the ways that the flower field failed this year (beaver migration, drought, irrigation failure) our kitchen garden has really over compensated (we irrigate it from our house well). We have more tomatoes than I can handle on my intermittent stays at the farm in between events in the city. I can them over a burn barrel in the yard (we still don't have a stove). The whole process is like Kinfolk meets Survivor.

After picking for a few hours (meditative!), it occurs to me that these five gallon buckets of tomatoes will be wasted unless I can them. So, late in the evening, I start a fire in a burn barrel and wait for a giant pot to boil. I sterilize some mason jars, cut up the tomatoes fighting off chickens and Nea (do other dogs like tomatoes?) and cook them down with a little salt. I add some basil leaves and a bit of citric acid to ensure the preservation. Then they boil for 45 minutes to seal the jars.

This process ended in a tantrum one night at around 10pm, hungry and exhausted with scortched forearms ... struggling with a fire and still waiting for a giant kettle to boil. I think I literally sort of jumped up and down yelling I'M SICK OF THIS HOMESTEADING SHIT to Eric, who had emerged calmly on cue from the shadows with a can of Genese cream ale and perfectly quaffed hair.

Suffice it to say, we overplanted. But when you're seeding those little fuckers in March in a freezing basement under grow lights, having not tasted a real tomato in months, 1 tray of seed blocks looks like insufficient funds.

Saipua in the city (or on the road) presents another sort of hectic mess, but one which I'm more familiar with and which results in less 3rd degree burns. May starts the foghorn of wedding season that just keeps on getting louder until you think it can't get any more intense and then it does. "HI!!" I'm shouting right now from the middle of the storm; wind gusts blowing scraps of paper and compost and peanuts all around us... "HOW ARE YOU??!"

Amidst all the travel and event making this summer, we hosted our first annual SAIPUA staff retreat at Worlds End. I planned activities each day. In some ways you realize you fill out your adult life with childhood fantasies unrealized. I was in charge! I got really into it and had to keep tempering my plans with reminders that 1. I am 35 years old and 2. games and races and scavenger hunts shouldn't result in tears.
Swimming and campfires ensued.
The last day we went to a water park. I practically held hands with my 11 year old self and braided her hair.

The sheep struggled with parasites all summer, despite Eric's valiant rotational grazing efforts. Mornings in July and August would be spent making a paste of garlic, mixing it into some corn and walking it up to feed the sheep. There were lots of apple cider vinegar drenches (the cure for everything!) When a sheep started to really succumb, we resorted to Ivermectin or Levamisol (chemical meds). You start off reading on the internet about holistic flock management and herbal remedies and in the end you're just flying down Route 20 in the mouse infested prius trying to get to Agway before they close to get the juice.

One day right before my birthday Eric found Maverick, one of the ram lambs dead as a doornail in field. He was right as rain the night before. We deduced it could have been 3 things: something poisonous in the pasture, internal injury from rams ramming each other, or Enterotoxemia (overeating disease); a bacterial infection that takes a sheep down in a matter of hours. This disease is preventable with CDT vaccine, an injection we chose not to give our flock this year. Each dead sheep provides valuable lessons. Maverick taught us how to skin a sheep (even though we couldn't eat him, we could harvest his pelt - a valuable and beautiful thing.)

Eric strung his body up in the tree in front of the house and with the help of a homemade youtube video by TEXASPREPPER2 we had his pelt off a little after dark. Eric cleaned up while I hauled his bloated skinned body to the edge of the property in the bucket of the tractor for the coyotes to have. It took them 3 days somehow to find it. Walking the dogs I'd sort of gently and hesitantly approach the spot we call the sheep graveyard, hoping to find cleaned bones so I could take his skull. Of course coyotes don't care about your talismans. They eventually dragged the whole thing off into the woods and we have never found it.

If I could tell you one thing that has changed for me lately its that I am more patient than I used to be; an ironic end to a post featuring several tantrum stories. I may be playing myself. But truth be told, I smiled at a miscellaneous group of children on the street the other day. Eating ice cream. They were reveling in their popsicular moments ... with no way of knowing all the things that will unfold in front of them. And not caring.