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Wednesday, 25 September 2013 13:39

Zen, and the art of llama whispering

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I am a cat whisperer. As a girl, on weekends when I’d visit my grandparents’ farm in southwest Sask., I often wandered across the lane to my aunt and uncle’s house.

There, on frosty, pre-winter days, I’d help my aunt make the cats’ dinner.
Filling three enameled bowls with dry cat food from the store, we’d pour boiling water over top and set them aside to soak. Then warm milk, still frothy from hitting the side of the pail, was poured over thick slices of yesterday’s bread. And when the contents of the first bowls had turned to stew, we carried our dishes out to the barn.
After all the cats had eaten, I’d crouch near the empty dishes, and there remain perfectly still on the cow-trodden concrete, hand extended in a gesture of amity. I’d wait until my muscles ached. Until the cold worked its way through my boots into my bones, while waiting for a gang of semi-feral kittens to come.
Eventually one, and then another kitten crept close, touched their noses to my hand, then dashed up the nearest milking stanchion.
It was a beginning. Before long, I would have the kittens tamed. And in the meantime, I went back to the house to warm up with soup.
So, many winters later, when Chefhusband and I were invited to visit a llama farm, I was ready to demonstrate exactly the kind of patience and calm it took to get an unfamiliar animal to trust you.
“Llamas are kind of like living blood pressure monitors,” the farmer told us before we were allowed to meet the flock. These were, after all, farm animals, raised for their wool and a farm is not a petting zoo.
“Llamas can tell when you’re high strung or have had a trying day,” the farmer went on.
“They won’t come around to you if you’re stressed. In that way, we find they’re very therapeutic animals. You have to adjust how you feel and come to their level. If you don’t find a calm centre inside yourself, if you’re anxious, it’s simply not possible to work with them. For lack of a better term, you have to find a place of Zen.”
Chefhusband took a deep breath and let it out in a cloud of condensation. He’d been glancing at me ever since the words “high strung” had come into the conversation.
High strung.
Trying day.
Sure, earlier that day, I’d found three bills I’d forgotten to pay. I was so close to missing assorted deadlines, I could almost feel windows of time slamming on my typing fingers.
But that was why we were here.
I was both writing about the farm for a travel feature in a local publication, and I needed a change of scenery to recharge my creative cells.
To be honest, if I’d ever had a calm centre, it had since shifted to the side and thrown me disastrously off balance.
“Just relax,” said Chefhusband when the first llama turned away from me and bolted for the back of the pack.
Meanwhile, several llamas began to gather around him. One snuffled his head and nuzzled his neck. And at the same time, a baby llama ran away from me and hid behind its mother.
“Well,” said the farmer, seeming to sense that I was becoming distraught. “It takes most people time. Your husband there just seems to have a natural calm. If you came to work here for a week, you’d be as tranquil as a monk.”
“Tranquil,” I thought, wondering whether there might be any tranquilizers in the barn.
Without a week to spare, I never did get to hug a llama.
I did, however, get to go home, sort my deadlines by their due dates, hug a chef, and cheer up with a warm bowl of consolation, cannellini beans, kale and sweet Italian sausage.


Cannellini Bean & Kale Soup
2 raw sweet Italian sausages
2 Tbs olive oil
6 shallots, medium diced
6 "bunch" carrots, sliced into coins
3 garlic cloves, sliced
4 stalks kale, ribs removed, leaves sliced
6 cups organic chicken stock
2 cans (398ml) cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
flaked kosher salt/fresh ground pepper


Remove sausages from casings. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add sausage meat, breaking it up as it cooks. Remove and drain fat back into pot using a slotted spoon. Set meat aside.
Add shallots, sautéing until translucent. Add carrots, garlic, kale and sausage. Sauté until kale is wilted and carrots slightly softened.
Add stock, then bring to a simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add beans and bring back up to a simmer, then season to taste.

Read 21102 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 September 2013 14:01