Let me begin with a brief thanks to whoever it was that created the electric wood splitter. This is a brilliant, if improbably heavy, machine. I love it!
Dave splitting wood at the farm.
With the first trip for wood, Dave started doing some log splitting to transform the log sections into actual fire wood. Using a maul (doesn’t sound promising…), he started muscling through the pile. I watched his technique and figured that it would take me only moments to lose a toe (we all know the luck I have with foot injuries… see “Family Dinner” post) and/or tweak my back beyond redemption. So when Farmer-Landlord said (only partially joking) that the Men get the wood and the Women do the splitting (more hunter-gatherer references here), I knew I was in trouble. Then Farmer-Landlord introduced me to Betsy… the name that I’ve given to his beloved electric wood splitter.
Me and Betsy posing.
Betsy is worth her considerable weight in gold. To help us out the first time, Farmer-Landlord backed his pickup to the wood pile, plunked Betsy down on to the open tail gate, and showed me how to use her. The splitter looks more or less like a narrow chute with an ax bit at one end. You plop the log onto the track, make sure one end of it is snuggly abutted to ax bit (aka the sharp end), and then in Betsy’s case you hold a button down while simultaneously pulling a lever (safety first) and a moving panel forces the log down onto the bit, splitting the wood. For larger logs you can do multiple splits. Easy Peasy.
Dendrochronology pop quiz…
In no time I had split my way, pink gloves and all, through about half of the pile of dumped wood. There was still the large trailer full and the person-sized logs that still needed portioning, but all in all not a bad start. At around the same time that my hands and arms started to complain loudly, Little Man woke from his nap complaining loudly too. His poor little face was swollen from the yellow jacket sting from earlier that day, and the copious calamine lotion didn’t help the look.
The next day I went out again to the pile to split wood; good little wood chuck that I am. The pickup was still parked next to it, the tailgate down at the perfect height for Betsy. I just needed to go get her from the work shed. Dave was off playing soccer, Little man was sleeping, and I was going to play Lumberjane.
I knew where Betsy was in the shed, gave her a quick spritz of oil along the track, tipped her up and started to wheel her out to the pile. Or I should say, uphill to the pile. I wheeled her over to the low rise that we had to clime together and dragged her like a dead body up the hill, finally getting to the pickup. I could hear the steady plunk, plunk, plunk of Farmer-Landlord “harvesting” rocks from the sheep pasture. Apparently they were messing with the idyllic scene, so one by one, plunk, plunk, plunk, then went into the maw of the tractor. Luckily the “rock garden” was around the corner from where I was attempting to work, so no one (I hope!) witnessed that pathetic struggle between myself, Betsy and gravity.
Now that I had gotten Betsy to the pickup, I needed to get her up onto the tail gate. Oy. I knelt down, grasped Betsy at both ends and made to lift her properly with knees bent, etc. Nothing moved. Betsy is a sturdy piece of work. So I tried again, and she just wiggled a bit. Now I was getting nervous that I would have to ask Farmer-Landlord for help, but I didn’t want to interrupt his chore to help with mine. So one last harrumph and I got Betsy most of the way to the tailgate. A lovely double-bruise on my upper thigh marked where I gave her a little extra boost up. I would forget about that bruise until I took Little Man to the pool a couple of days later. In my swim suit I looked battered, and got quickly into the water that miraculously hides a number of evils. Once I had Betsy on the tail gate, we were off to the races.
A winter’s worth of wood to be split.
Again I made pretty quick work of almost all of the loose pile of wood, making quite an impressive (if not properly stacked) wood pile. But I have to come back to that “almost all” from the previous sentence. About five or six of the larger, more recently harvested logs were a bit wetter than the others. A few of the dry logs sounded like a gun shot when the log finally split under the pressure. The more recently cut logs sometimes fought a bit and would split, but not completely. They hold themselves together in remembrance of what it was to be complete with fibrous fingers. I “split” these larger logs four or five times and for my troubles ended up with my own wooden rose sculptures. Do you know those pictures in Thai restaurants of the fancily carved fruit? The watermelons carved into intricate flower baskets, the mango carved into a swan, etc.? This is my own, much less appealing, version. These wooden roses have been set aside in a pile for the stubborn, to be resplit by Dave.
My wood pile.
In the meantime, Little Man managed to sleep through the wood splitting for a second day in a row, and was just waking up when I was finishing the pile and Dave was just getting home from soccer. All three of us were a bit dazed afterwards, and while Betsy had done all the hard work for the splitting, I started to feel the exhaustion of lifting and hurling all the wood. Now it was time to make dinner. We wanted something hearty befitting our efforts, but not enough to induce a food coma. And it needed to be quick. As luck would have it, I had recently stumbled across (literally, one was on the floor of the grocery store aisle) prepared polenta in a local store. Angels were singing when I found this tube and quickly plunked a couple down in my cart. Little Man used one as a microphone for a bit. This would be the basis for a super quick oven roasted polenta with marinara and oozy cheese.
This recipe is about as no-fuss as it gets. The polenta is already prepared and in handy tubular form for slicing. You slice, bake and crisp. Then top with a heated from-the-jar good quality marinara sauce, top with some freshly grated cheese, broil, and done. At least it is normally easy… I didn’t fully realize how tired my upper body was until I was putting a full tray of food into the oven and my hands simply gave out. The tray tipped forward and as I tried to compensate so as to not lose our dinner to the floor, I tagged my hand on the preheated oven rack. Then I tagged the same hand again on the other side while I tried to compensate again. So now I had two spectacular burns on my hands to compliment my lower body bruising. Let’s just say that I was a vision of loveliness at the pool a few days later, bandages and bruises, and runny mascara (I’d forgotten to leave that off that morning on the way to the pool). The glamour continues…
Oven Baked Polenta
Serves two with leftovers. Easily up the quantity by just doubling (or more) the ingredients. The method stays the same.
1 tube of prepared polenta
1 jar of good quality marinara sauce
1 cup grated mozzarella
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil, to drizzle
Salt and Pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 425º Fahrenheit. Prepare a baking sheet by drizzling about one table spoon olive oil over its base. Too much oil and the polenta will be greasy, too little and it sticks.
2. Slice the polenta into ½ inch thick coins. Sprinkle salt and pepper over both sides. Place the polenta coins on the baking sheet, and drizzle the tops with a little olive oil.
Sliced polenta coins.
3. Bake the polenta coins for about 25 minutes, or until crispy and golden on both sides. Meanwhile heat the sauce, either in a pan on the stove or a bowl in the microwave.
4. Once the polenta is golden, pull the pan out of the oven and sprinkle the grated mozzarella and parmesan evenly over the polenta coins. Crank the oven up to broil, put the pan back into the oven, and watch it like a hawk. Don’t answer the phone, don’t refill any juice cups, just monitor the melting cheese. You want golden, not volcanic ash.
Golden brown polenta coins topped with chesse and ready for the broiler.
5. Resist the temptation to simply top the polenta with the sauce in a nice large casserole. You went to a lot of trouble to crisp up that polenta. If you top the crisp food with the wet sauce, you will get soggy polenta. Instead, be a little bit fussy (you can afford to be fussy here since the dinner took next to no prep) and pour a bit of sauce onto each plate. Top the sauce with a couple cheesy polenta coins, and enjoy! We served this with a great, simple fresh lettuce salad from the garden.
Click here for a printable version of theOven Roasted Polenta recipe.
Pink gloves and all.