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.


LPC said...

I haven't wished for anything this hard in close to a decade but oh lord does my dangerous suburban heart wish I'd been there.

You probably don't know how much my husband and I retain awareness of you, and how you came to San Francisco, and handed me a bouquet and pinned a boutonniere on him, but we do.

All the best and thank you for existing.

Mlle Paradis said...

ohhhhh!!!!!! WOW! what a night! once again bravo to you, and bravo to the "ring of fire".

Penny said...

Love this

Anonymous said...

I am bowled over time and time again by your boundless creativity, energy, and GRIT! It's all so achingly gorgeous Sarah.

Unknown said...

That honestly was beautiful. So incredibly hard working, artistic, and sharing. You inspire me............M

Anonymous said...

Sarah, you DO know how to throw a party! Congratulations!

Desi McKinnon said...

This makes me so happy. Actually I have so many emotions about it. Congratulations on the barn and throwing an amazing party. I hope to visit Worlds End someday. You can put me to work too. I won't mind a bit.

Elizabeth Aley said...

i am totally thunderstruck by your genius. That's nothing new when it comes to your creations - but this is on a whole new level. Bravo! Cheers to a great accomplishment - I know you are just getting warmed up.

Robin said...

We drove for 12 hours and walked another 12 hours just to come and meet you and experience Saipua...suffice it to say that on November 1st everyone at Saipua was away...we were heartbroken at first that everything was closed and our effort was for not but after reading about your adventures we now understand and we do appreciate the time we all must take to reflect and play.

Unknown said...

really amazing. so many congratulations to you and all you and your team have achieved.

laura (tigz) de palma said...

oh wow sarah! what a fantastical event to celebrate so much hard work and vision. it all looks so gorgeous! i am over hear in ibiza, living in a little apartment on the water - and working diligently on our dream farm. this gives me hope an inspiration that someday, we too, will be celebrating the fruits of our labor! i love reading about the happenings in saipua world, and look forward to hanging out again someday! x

Anonymous said...

This is EXACTLY the vision I had for you and the Barn several years ago.

Many happy celebrations will occur in this magical space .


Mia Staysko said...

Just found your blog. God it is beautiful. Really.

Various Projects said...

I am in constant awe and inspired by your story of saipua and your writing. I have followed the business periodically from around the beginning. As I open my open new business, and consider loans and investors and projections... I read this post with a whole bunch of "Yes! This is the kind of world I want to create!" Congrats and keep on. Excited to see where you end up and thanks for torching a way... Your own way.

Meg said...

no one ages better than saipua