Monday, July 16, 2007

Fairburn Farm

It turns out that Curly would like nothing better than to be a farm girl. And that her brother, and their cousin, the Incredible Eating Nephew, were pretty happy tooting around on a farm, too, chasing chickens, throwing rocks into creeks, getting followed around by the farm dog, AJ (who Curly is pining for), gathering eggs and the like.

It didn't hurt that the food on Fairburn Farm, where we spent a few nights last week, is really quite fantastic. The Incredible Eating Nephew usually does his very best to seem shoulder-shruggingly unimpressed by most things (example of enthusiasm from him: "Eh. It was okay." and that's for something he likes), and he noted, out loud and with some enthusiasm, that the food was excellent. Curly was delighted that the eggs she gathered were then scrambled up and served to her. Mara Jernigan, who runs the cooking school and inn on the farm, tried all kinds of ways to tempt my boy into eating an actual vegetable (an incredible risotto, a beautiful minestra with fresh pasta, summer rolls), but although he will take a bite to be polite, as far as he is concerned, the only vegetables worth eating are potatoes. He did, however, love the breakfasts, and the chicken she made one night, and the halibut she made, and he was in heaven with the desserts (dessert highlights were a sabayon with berries and a crostata with rhubarb and berries, topped with lavender ice cream). The Incredible Eating Nephew mostly got enough to eat, although one morning I looked at his sad expression and his empty plate and, then, sadly (it was good, and I wanted to eat it), at my own, before telling him I wasn't very hungry and did he want the remaining half of my breakfast? He vacummed it up. My boy was pleased as could be to find an old washer- he used it to hold a long stick and a short stick together, and voila- it was a rifle with a bayonet fixed to it. He marched around the farm with it, defending us from imaginary armies.

The swallows on the veranda were not something my boy tried to defend us from. For one, rifles and pistols were forbidden (by me) from coming into any house area, which included verandas, porches and the like. For another, the children were enchanted to watch the barn swallows swoop into their nest in a corner of the front veranda, chattering, pushing and wiggling. My boy, excited as he was with his bayoneted rifle, didn't want to scare the swallows. It was amazing to watch, at one point, five swallows exit such a tiny space, and the swooping way they fly is lovely.

We chugged into Cowichan Bay a couple of times. We bought ice cream from The Udder Guy's, cheese from Hilary's Fine Cheeses, and sampled the breads at True Grain Bread pretty extensively. The cheeses were lovely- and I have to give a thank you to the ladies from Moonstruck Cheese on Salt Spring Island, who were hanging out on the veranda at Fairburn Farm Thursday morning. When my cheese-loving boy found out that there were actual cheesemakers in the building, nothing would do but a chat. They were incredibly gracious and friendly answering his questions, and recommended Hilary's cheeses. We went that morning (my boy was ablaze with excitement about talking to the cheesemakers and the chance to buy locally made cheese), and bought their St. Clair (a Camembert type, and delicious), the St. Michel (a goat cheese Camembert type, also delicious) and the Belle Ann, which was a semi-firm goat cheese. The kids were less wild about the Belle Ann, but I liked it quite a bit. We snagged ourselves a bunch of baguettes from True Grain Bread, which is right next door, and that counted as lunch, really. That, and the fact that all three children snarfed down a scoop of ice cream apiece on the back porch there, which looks out over the bay and marina.

But... I can't say we really did much of anything in particular. We walked around on the farm, up to the barn, out to the pastures, down to the creek, and the kids played a game of Biggest Kabloosh, which is pretty much what it sounds like. The winner is the person who makes the biggest kabloosh throwing their rock into the water. Curly was both participant and self-appointed judge, and- shocker!- emerged victorious.

We went over to Bright Angel Park and Curly and my boy swam a bit in the Koksilah river while The Incredible Eating Nephew worked on his rock skipping and my parents relaxed. And then another round of biggest kabloosh was played before we walked back over the suspension bridge to the car.

With the rock throwing and swimming in a river and chasing chickens, the kids were all set to have me call their daddy and say we were going to buy a farm of our own, or at the very least, stay at Fairburn Farm a bit longer. Like forever. They were a little disappointed when I noted that owning a farm was a great deal different than visiting one, and involved actual, rather enormous, amounts of work, and also did not generally include someone like Mara cooking amazing meals and generally, without seeming to be doing so, looking after everyone's contentment. I think Curly had already imagined me getting the buffalo up from the pasture to the barn, and herself gathering eggs each morning, and her brother imagined feeding the chickens kitchen scraps, and getting a good arsenal of sticks lined up. I think if someone had told me I would stay at a culinary retreat (with my kids, nephew and parents, and that all of us would love it), I might have laughed at the pretensions in such a designation. And yet... that's pretty much what it was. It was immensely restful (okay, as restful as it gets when you're keeping an eye on three energetic kids), and, without it being pushed as an agenda, it was virtually impossible not to learn about the food that was coming to table, surrounded as we were by its production. The buffalo herd produced the milk that was made into mozzarella that we had at dinner one night. The garden produced rhubarb and berries and salads and beans. The chickens gave us our eggs. The connection of farming and food and Mara's commitment to slow food was all around, but not in an even remotely preachy way. It prompted all of the kids to ask questions, including The Incredible Eating Nephew, who, like many a thirteen-year-old is often too shy to show that he's curious. He wanted to know if eating chickens and laying hens were the same thing, and had questions about the buffalo, and seemed, generally, to feel as if he was somewhere he could just ask what he wanted to know. For lack of a better way to put it, it was incredibly cool. And the cottage was just right for the kids and I (and hopefully, next time, my husband as well), and my parents, after the first hot night, were comfortable in the main house, which also gave them a little separation from Curly's rising at 5am (Her: "Mama! Mama! Wake up! Is it time to gather eggs?" Me: "Huh? What? Huh? No. Go back to bed.), 6am (Her: "Is it time to gather eggs?" Me: "Huh? No. Go back to bed"), 7am (see previous parenthetical conversations) and 7:30am, when it was, indeed, time to rise.
Curly loved it so much that this afternoon, she has regularly been bursting into tears because she misses it so much, and misses AJ in particular. I can't quite blame her; I loved having dogs growing up, but both she and I, as it happens, are allergic. She had to wash her hands after petting AJ so that she wouldn't get little contact hives when she rubbed her hands against, say, her face, which has been known to happen with her. She washed her hands alot while we were there. She wept when we left. I am torn between feeling really, really bad for her and being kind of annoyed.


Bellini Valli said...

I live in British Columbia and would like to visist Fairburn Farm someday. I always like to incorporate cooking classes into my vacations when I can:D

Meg said...

Although I haven't taken any of Mara's cooking classes, I can't recommend Fairburn Farm highly enough. I am scheming and plotting to go back again this summer (and hoping she'll have space).
Incorporating cooking classes into a vacation seems like great idea, on a number of fronts.