Posted by Rob Eshman
Susan Orleans gets it almost exactly right when she writes in her New Yorker blog Free Range about the simple, concrete pleasure of waking up in the morning and feeding the chickens.
She lives out in the country now and has a few chickens. Every morning she lugs them a bucket of water and grain.
“Even at their messiest and most burdensome these chicken chores please me,” she writes. “It’s a concrete need—water!—to which I can respond specifically—here you go, birds, water!—and the cycle is complete… It is a relief sometimes to take on a task and see it through and know it to be wholly sufficient.”
That’s all true—I just returned from two weeks of vacation in Europe, and I found myself surprised that one thing I missed about home was my morning pseudo-farm chores. Feed the chickens. Feed the goats. Water the vegetables.
Why do I say “pseudo-farm?” Because on Monday I also had to pick up three empty PBR cans someone tossed into the front yard artichoke patch. Oh, and a used blue thong—not the kind you wear on your foot. If I dared fantasize for a second that I was living on a real farm in the real country, THAT certainly keeps sets me straight.
The one other big pleasure I get from my morning animal chores is this—the one Susan Orleans neglected to mention—is this gratitude. When I toss in the Timothy grass and fill up the laying pellets, the chickens and goats are visibly relieved. (I don’t have to lug water. Susan, do yourself a favor and get an extra garden hose and a self-regulating water bucket). The animals have been up with the sun, agitating the dirt, raising the volume on their clucks and mehs, until finally they see me, the big lumbering hay-carrying creature, calling their names, followed by that damn black dog. And they grow even more excited. They race toward me. They press around me. Thank GOD you’re here. Thank YOU.
Once I drop the food, they race up to it and chomp away, the goats butting each other over who goes first, the chickens according to their prearranged caste system. They all calm down. I read all this as gratitude, as a big THANK YOU.
A lot of what we do for others during the day goes un-thanked. That’s fine. That’s the way society works. The street sweeper who cleans Victoria goes unthanked—he’s finished before I’m awake. Ditto the gardeners who mow my lawn and leave before I’m home from work, the dishwasher in the restaurant where I have lunch—we all do tasks for love or money and receive a fraction of the gratitude due. But if feeling gratitude helps make us happy, so does, to some degree, receiving it. So how great is it to start each morning making seven chickens, two dogs and two goats the happiest they’ve been in hours.
Two mornings ago I walked out and received my gratitude in the form of a picture postcard moment. Ollie, it turns out, has been serving as roost for three of the new birds.
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July 1, 2011 | 12:33 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
When it comes to Shabbat, I’m more of a lunch/nap Jew than a pray/sermon Jew.
I’m not anti-synagogue—some of my best friends are Jewish— but by the time Saturday rolls around, the place I most want to be is home. I spend my waking, working hours deep up the business of the Jewish community. When I walk into a synagogue, I get comments about The Journal, complaints, intense discussions on Israel and Obama—exactly what I get in the office. Isn’t Shabbat a day of rest?
My wife, the rabbi, she goes to shul. She loves to go to shul. And I know she wishes I would go with her. I know this because she tells me. No one likes to be a “shul widow.”
Once in a while, I go. And when I do, when I’m actually there, meeting people, praying, reading the Torah portion and the commentaries, hearing my wife beside me sing—I like it all.
It’s just that, most Saturdays, I prefer our backyard.
All this could be a source of tension—she’s in shul, he’s at home. She’s up and out early, he’s walking the dogs. But over the years, we’ve found a solution that splits the difference in our desires.
It’s called Sabbath lunch.
You won’t find a great deal of written law or custom about the Sabbath lunch in the ancient texts. But it’s a beautiful thing. Spiritual in the way a great meal with people you love can be spiritual. Religious in the way it brings the spirit of Shabbat into your home. In our home, it’s a savior: a way for us to celebrate the Sabbath together, even when one of us—me—prefers not to spend the morning in shul.
So, like most things religious in our home, we’ve flipped the traditional roles. The woman rabbi is off to shul, the man is home getting lunch ready. I’m fine with that.
Because Jewish law prohibits cooking on the Sabbath, a Sabbath lunch is actually easy. In the cold months you make cholent the day before and place it in a low oven. That and salad and challah and you’re good to go.
But this time of year, the long, warm, lazy afternoons—that’s when a Sabbath lunch can really lift you higher.
These days, I make cedar planked wild salmon the day before and keep it in the refrigerator. When Naomi comes home from synagogue, lunch is ready. We eat on our picnic table under our giant ficus tree, in dappled sunlight. The goats and chickens off in the side yard provide the appropriate shtetl soundtrack.
As long as there is $7.99 wild Alaskan salmon at Costco, the menu is simple: The salmon, a tomato, basil and mozzerella salad, a salad with fresh uncooked corn, arugula, fennel and avocado, cherries.
(The treat this week is olive oil we picked up at Ojai Olive Oil Company. We stopped by the farm in Ojai, got a tour from the co-owner Alice Asquith, and tasted all their varieties. The place is lovely and the oils are superb.)
Our kids come to the table. It’s hard to get them to shul by 10, easy to get them to lunch by 1. Nomi blesses the wine and challah. We eat and talk.
Then it’s nap time.
Shabbat lunch. Like I said, it’s a religious experience.
Cedar Planked Salmon
1 /3/4- 2 pounds fresh wild salmon, cut into 4 portions
2 untreated cedar planks (available at Whole Foods or lumber yard)
Salt, Pepper, olive oil
Heat gas grill to high, or make a hot fire. Soak planks in cold water at least ½ hour, preferably 1 or 2.
Salt and pepper salmon fillets, brush with oil. Place on planks.
Place planked salmon skin side down on grill. Reduce flame to low, or push coals to side of grill. Cover. Grill until just barely cooked through, about 7 minutes. No need to turn.
Test for doneness. Let cool, the cover and refrigerate.
Serve cold or room temperature with lemon slices.