Funny Farm

In Louisiana Ladies, Payton Denney by Lola Magazine

Last week I bit a ping pong ball in half.

It occurred right after my oldest son pelted me in the forehead with it. I had calmly asked him 17 times to stop throwing it. I’m certain he will no longer ignore my requests nor test the limits of my mental stability. 

This quarantine has us all going savage.

The past few weeks have been bizarre at best. One by one, each member of my family has had their moment. We’ve cried for no reason and on occasion have spoken loudly to one another, but mostly we’ve been decent. Our most effective place to retreat during meltdowns is the backyard. It’s calming out there. There’s space to spread out. Mostly, we need a big deep breath of cleansing air and sometimes a bush to kick.

Digging in the dirt is medicinal for me. I began my gardening adventure more than a decade ago during my struggle with infertility. After one particularly difficult day, I found myself wandering the aisles of the Home Depot gardening section. That six-pack of jalapeno plants that made their way into my shopping cart set the hook. My innate need to grow something had been met. Everyone received pickled jalapenos for Christmas. 

Gardening, much like getting pregnant with your first perfect child, is a slippery slope. One minute you’re buying a few tomato plants for your manageable 4×4 garden, and the next you’re loading a tiller and chicken feed in the back of your minivan. Adding one innocent layer at a time, life gets complicated. I have a propensity for inviting complicated in to stay.

When it comes to gardening, I’ve tried it all. My watermelons aren’t sweet. My corn cobs bear seven hillbilly teeth kernels. Carrots are my nemesis. I cannot, for the life of me, make compost.

However, as much as I have failed, I’ve experienced success. The happiest flower in the garden is a sunflower. For some reason, sunflowers and zinnias have decided that they like me. When I’m working in the yard, I hear my grandmother’s voice. “Plant things that you can harvest.” And so I do: tomatoes, okra, squash, cucumbers, blueberries, blackberries, and herbs! There’s not much satisfaction that compares with a successful garden harvest. And hell hath no fury like a farmer discovering a tobacco hornworm attack on almost ripe tomatoes.

My raised garden bed is my sanctuary. No one in my family enjoys the toil required to produce a harvest, therefore my garden is a place where I can be alone. Because I’m alone, no one sees my failures. No one has to know that my purple hull peas were overrun by aphids or that the worms in my worm farm ran away. No one has to see me smash the perfectly ripened cantaloupe through which the deer gnawed a hole. No one has video evidence of me coming out of my shirt when a hairy spider dropped somewhere onto my body. On the flip side, my garden is right behind my house. Therefore, I can choose which successes to share. There have been plenty.

And then there are my birds. I can’t describe the joy that these sassy creatures bring to our yard. Often people ask why we have chickens. I’m still not sure that I know the answer. I’ve long since slid from the top of that hill. But I can tell you that the postmaster now knows me by name, as in “Mrs. Denney, your chicks arrived this morning.” 

Raising chickens comes with two rules:

Keep them alive.

Enjoy the eggs

The second is easier than the first. To successfully achieve #1, you’ll need a trap and a pistol. Oh, there’s one tiny additional detail—expect snakes.

In raising birds, I have come to respect them. They diligently work all day to turn the ground and lay eggs. Consequently, when we eat chicken for dinner, I do my best to use every part. There is no comparison to homemade bone broth. If you have an instant pot, you must try it. I also feel obligated to admit that we do not eat our own birds. We haven’t gone that savage—yet.

Lately, as I lay in bed each night, I wonder when we will get back to normal. And then I wonder if I really want to get back to normal. For me, it’s become painfully clear how disconnected and wasteful I have become in my busyness. Even in our slowing down, I’m discovering that we are still abundantly blessed. That abundance, for my family, is evidenced in our outdoor space. I feel as if we’ve been granted a once in a lifetime opportunity to hit the reset button. The question I now ponder is which old habits will we carry into this next phase of life, and which will we leave behind? 

Pickled Jalapenos

15 to 20 large jalapenos, sliced, stems discarded

2 cloves smashed garlic

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 cup filtered water

4 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp kosher salt

In a medium saucepan combine garlic, water, vinegar, sugar and salt.

Heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Once at a boil, add sliced jalapenos pressing them so they are submerged under the pickling liquids. Remove the pot from the heat and let them sit for 10-15 min.

Use tongs to transfer the jalapenos into a clean mason jar. Pour pickling juice over the top until jar is filled. Let cool.

Store in the refrigerator as this is not a canning recipe.

Instant Pot Bone Broth

Bones from one chicken

1 carrot, peeled, chopped into thirds

1 rib of celery, chopped into thirds

1 shallot or one small onion, outer skin removed, halved

Green trimmings from one leek

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of fresh parsley (or a generous pinch of dried)

1 tsp kosher salt

½ tsp whole black peppercorns

Place all ingredients in instant pot. Make sure not to fill over the line. 

Pour in water to reach the fill line.

Set instant pot valve to sealing. Press manual button and set timer for 60 minutes.

Once cooking time is over, let pressure release naturally (60 minutes).

Remove the lid and let the stock cool for a few minutes. Then strain broth into heatproof containers (mason jars). Enjoy right away or store in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Use to cook rice, pasta, vegetables or in soups.