A Bird in the Hand

We have constructed an artifice, a Potemkin village of an ecosystem where we perpetrate the illusion that the things we consume have just fallen off the back of Santa’s sleigh, not been ripped from the earth. This enables us to imagine that the only choices we have are between brands.
                —Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Black chick

This week, I’ve been thinking about chickens.

I’ve been thinking about chickens because we’ve been eating them–experimenting with using dry rubs, letting the breast meat soak that in, and then roasting it on the grill, basting it with a barbecue sauce, letting it slow cook, and then eating it with farmers’ market corn and new potatoes from Randy’s fields. Rubs are new to our chicken repertoire, and the results–tasty and moist, seared on the outside–are a welcome revelation.

But I’ve been thinking about chickens, too, because of the folks we know who raise them. They are varied, these chicken-raising people: artists and officers, class-act retirees,  professors, stay-at-home moms. These are people, for the most part, who have been quietly tending their fowl for a long, long time. Their chicken preoccupations predate the current poultry raising craze by a broad span of years. Their stories, I think, would make a compelling article, and I message my friend Robin to see if she’ll let me come and visit, to interview her about her chickens and her art.

Robin is gracious and welcoming, and so, on Thursday morning, James and I pile into the car and drive north to Mount Vernon.

************

Robin lives, with her husband Craig and their sons, Paul and Isaac, in a pretty red cottage on the borderline between town and country. The house perches on a little slice of verdant heaven, and we pull up the long gravel drive and park next to the family van. We walk up a path bordered in green, past a homey looking chicken coop, and up the steps to the back door.

We sit at the table and visit while cinnamon buns bake and Robin makes a second fragrant pot of decaf. Isaac, about to enter his last year of college, tells us about a new bird he’s been watching this summer. It’s wren-like, but with a longer beak and a different perching pattern, and it’s been pecking at his window. He realized, he says, that it had peeled away a corner of the window screen to get to spiders spinning homes in the space between window glass and summer screening. He’s excited because that means the bird has taken its instinctual feeding pattern–foraging in the bark of a tree,–and adapted it to human construction.

Isaac is tall and lean, ponytailed, with piercing black eyes. He is a biologist, studying, right now, fish and their adaptive relationships in Ohio waters, but birds are his passion. He loves video games, too, and Robin and I leave him and Jim discussing a digital world. We take our coffee and warm-from-the-oven buns, and we retreat to a little sitting area at the top of the stairs. It’s where Robin does her sewing, away from everyday house bustle.

Robin moves the sewing machine close to the window, pulls out chairs, and we settle in. Emily, the aging poodle, sweet and friendly, hoists herself up the stairs, too, settles in, falls asleep on the area rug at my feet. Robin shows me her just-finished project, a beautiful, capacious, quilted bag that she puts up on top of the sewing machine and covers. Otherwise, the cat will find that soft and comfy fabric, mash it down, and create for herself a new sleeping spot.

And then we talk about chickens.

Robin and Isaac started raising chickens together twelve years ago. It was a 4-H project for Isaac; he got several Banties, who first lived in the basement. Every day, Isaac and his mom would take them outside and put them in a hutch with a run; every night, they would herd them up and bring them back inside. They grew completely used to humans, those chickens; Isaac took to wandering around with the rooster on his shoulder, like a pirate with his parrot. He loved the chickens and he continued to raise them long after his 4-H time was over.

The Banties were joined by other breeds–Orpingtons and Wyandottes, Barred Rocks, New Hampshire Reds, Cuckoo Morans, and Rhode Island Reds. Robin loved the birds, too, and even after Isaac went away to school, she continued to keep the chickens. She favors heavier hens who lay brown eggs–they are tougher birds, she says; it’s harder for a hawk to swoop down and carry one away.

Still, they have attrition. One night, as she turned up that gravel drive, Robin’s headlights illuminated a coyote stealing off with a bird in its jaws. It dropped the hen and ran away.  Robin butchered that freshly dead bird–something they do only rarely, although they enjoy the eggs year ’round.

Chickens are one connection, for Robin, to an Iowa farming childhood. She may not have time, with her full-time job at a bookstore, and her commitment to teaching ceramics, to till a kitchen garden or tend to goats or pigs. But chickens she can do.

***************

We go into the basement and visit the newest chickens–babies just fluffing out working wings. There are eight or ten chicks; they are all hens and all different types–pale and dark, some with patterned beaks, some with feathered legs, some just beginning to sport a comb. They tumble together in a big galvanized tub, sweetly cheeping, running to get food, taking impatient little drinks of water. They are impossibly fluffy and impossibly cute.

Outside, the mature chickens–a Banty rooster named Earl, Lord and Lady Orpington, and a Wyandotte hen, wander peacefully among the shrubs by their coop, poking their heads out, looking to Earl for instruction when Robin offers feed.  They are big and bright-eyed, strikingly colored,  and beautiful.

Grownups

Robin talks about predators–raccoons are the worst, she says, followed by foxes and an occasional coyote, and they have to balance a healthy, free-range life with the carnivore threat.

She shows me chicken catalogs, with glossy, alluring pictures of beautiful birds accompanied by lists of characteristics. You can choose size, of course, and appearance and egg color; you can choose the level of cold-weather hardiness and you can choose disposition tendencies.

There’s a lot to think about with chickens, I begin to realize. There’s a lot, say Robin and Isaac, to love.

****************

Robin has taken to photographing the grownups; she sketches from the photos she likes, and then the sketches flow into her ceramic designs.  She’ll throw a batch of mugs, then pull and place the handles, coat them with a slip made from local, Knox County, clay and bisque fire them. When they’re cleaned and washed, she’ll do a wax drawing of a chicken, a drawing taken from life. She shows me a photo of Earl pecking at a nugget of food; she shows me a mug with a perfectly proportioned, stylized rooster in the very same pose.

Wax drawing done, Robin dips the mug into a base coat of glaze, applies a second layer of wax, adds the top glaze coat, cleans the base, and then loads the kiln and fires the mugs.

A  mug takes at least two and a half weeks to create.

Chicken Mugs

You have to love the process because it brings you joy, says Robin, but you’ll never recoup, in dollars, the time you put into it. You have to own an appreciation of the long, slow way of doing things.

It’s true in raising chickens, as in art, of course. We talk about the difference between a factory farmed egg and its free range counterpart–the richer, more deeply colored yolks, the shells’ fragility, the difference in flavor.  The same differences, says Robin, are seen in the chicken meat. Factory farmed chickens are bred to maturity within eight weeks; their meat is watery and flavorless, their bones flexible and rubbery.  Free-range chickens  take a minimum of twelve to fifteen weeks to grow into themselves, and their bones, and their flesh, are firm. The flavor, Robin says, is incomparable.

It’s a dilemma, she acknowledges, because to buy a free range hen for roasting, you’d probably pay something like $6.99 a pound–a cost most families can’t embrace.

**************

Long ago, I read that United States Americans seldom think about where food comes from. They just eat it—a lot of it.

And I think about the chickens–food chickens–in this context: I’m reading Robin Wall Kimmerer.  In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer writes about the relationship between a person and her food. In her native American tradition, when she gathers food, Kimmerer asks permission and she gives thanks. And she never takes everything.

So she’ll go out to gather wild leeks to make a risotto for her visiting daughters, and when she locates a patch, she will ask the plant’s permission to take her harvest. Then she’ll dig up a tiny portion; if the plant has granted her permission, it will be whole and healthy. Kimmerer will leave a gift of tobacco and judiciously harvest what she needs, leaving enough to perpetuate the food plant’s life.

It’s a philosophy, a practice she calls the Honorable Harvest; she applies it to the eating of plants and to the eating of animals. We need animals, she acknowledges; we need their flesh and their fur and and their hides and their feathers; we need their bones to make our stock. But we need to use them wisely, judiciously, reverently. “Gifts from the earth,” she writes, “or from each other, establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate.”

And I wonder if this has something to do with the pull that draws many to the raising of chickens–the ability to hold the tiny chick in your hand, to feed it, to allow it to run and explore and take dust baths in the bare spot under the rhododendrons. To get to knows its quirks and foibles and to enable it to have a natural life, a wholesome life, a life that is fulfilled and meaningful. To say thank you when the eggs are harvested. And, when the hen or the rooster is butchered for food, to make it happen in a quick and respectful way. And to use, as Robin says, every part of that chicken that can be used–even the heads and feet in a stock that, she affirms, is more flavorful than any you’ve ever tasted before.

****************

Knowing the bird on the plate before me has to make a difference, to slow me down, to make me appreciate, force me to savor. This is not just one of a million identical bred-to-eat birds, I acknowledge. I know this bird. This was an individual who flapped and pecked and socialized, a being who gave us joy in life and sustains us by his dying. We gave him freedom, sunshine, and companions. He feeds us. We knew this rooster’s name.

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Four Visits

I hear her high heels tapping down the polished hallway.  She had an intermediary call me to ask if I knew of any people in need; I mentioned a longtime colleague, retired and alone now, with some serious health problems.  There was, the intermediary said, someone who wanted to help a person just like that this Christmas.  That someone would stop by with an envelope, and she would be grateful if I would just address and mail it.

It was an easy task to agree to do.

I am thinking this must be a seasoned benefactor…someone comfortably settled, perhaps with children established and in no need of mama’s money.  But the heels belong to a young person who is far from rich. She is, though, smart, clever, and thoroughly professional; she and her husband came unexpectedly into a tidy sum, and they decided to split it. Half goes to someone he found who is in need, the other half to someone she identifies: that’s their Christmas gift to each other.

She hands me a thick envelope with a name etched on it; her joy at perpetrating this unacknowledged act of giving is boundless.  She swears me to secrecy, wishes me a merry Christmas, and taps away.

I address and stamp the envelope and slide it into the mailbox across the street.

********

Ducking her head, eyes hidden beneath a long bang, she hands out hand-folded boxes to each of the board members.  Open them! she urges. We do, and are amazed at the painted ornaments–with snow-covered pine trees, fat red cardinals perched on snow-dusted branches, beaming Santas and frolicking snowmen, rigid nutcrackers and graceful ballerinas, gracing their tender, curved glass sides.

We gasp; they are exquisite.  She laughs delightedly.  She grasps her hands and bobs a bow.  She is so proud.

She is a recovering addict become an artist, someone who wanted to say thank you to the board that okays the funds that support the program she first went through and now works for.  She teaches others, now, to paint; she donates paintings to be auctioned off to raise funds for the program.  She has worked through a long, bad tunnel, and she has emerged into the light.

Beet-red, triumphant, she slides out of the conference room, waving a merry Christmas to all.

**********

We gather around the table–eight old friends missing two more who are at a different gathering that day,–two who are mourning a loved one lost too soon.  The candles glow, Keith invokes a warm and personal grace, and we tuck into herbed rolled pork, potato pancakes and applesauce, crusty homemade bread, a savory slaw, and Larry-made pies.  It is a meal as delicious and unique as the home in which we gather.

The long table sits on polished concrete floors; whitewashed beams gleam high above us.  This was once a gas station; it now is Kay and Brian’s home, with a sleeping space defined by walls cleverly constructed of three-deep packing pallets strung with twinkle lights. The kitchen is a tiny marvel of high-tech efficiency, the bathroom small and snug and wonderful.

Kay has her studio; her paintings enliven the walls of the whole space–new paintings, larger, growing evermore strong and bold, like her amazing and constantly maturing talent. Brian has his work-space.  Together, they have stories to tell of mishaps and triumphs, but it has been worth the trek: their vision of this extraordinary home-space is realized.

Kay and Brain live at a midpoint; after that wonderful meal and a chance to really visit, we reluctantly move outside.  No parking problems in a former service station: we linger by the cars. We listen to the gentle burble of the fountain Brian constructed, and which is, in this oddly warm winter, unhindered by ice.  Finally, with hugs and plans to meet again in 2016, with shouts of “Merry Christmas!” we climb in our cars and pull out, headed north, south, and west, into the darkness, strengthened by the rekindling of that friendly warmth.

**********

Jeff is the counselor who organized and oversaw a wonderful program Jim took part in several years ago.  Jeff keeps everyone connected with email updates and invitations to reunions and notices about who’s graduated, who’s gotten a job, and who might need a little support.  This week he emails that a young man from the program is alone this Christmas.  He wonders if anyone would like to spend an hour or two helping the boy celebrate.

I mention it to Mark and Jim, and both of them, without hesitation, say, “Of course.”  Tight-throated and misty, I email Jeff to confirm.

We pack up cookies, write out a card, grab a game, and bundle into Mark’s car for the ride to the city at 11:30 or so on Christmas day.  We arrive at the boy’s house just a shade early; he is standing out front, tall, bearded, and gangly limbed–sort of Abe-Lincoln-y–yelling into a cell phone.  We park and approach and he looks at us, a little frightened, and yells into the phone that he has to go, there are PEOPLE here!

Jeff pulls up at that moment and we usher into a small, tidy apartment, with sparse furniture, white walls, and hardwood floors.  There is a little fabric tree; there is one present underneath it.  Jeff, Mark, and Jim lug in folding chairs.  Our host pulls chicken nuggets and french fries from the freezer; we locate one baking sheet and make chicken and potatoes share.  Jeff produces a veggie lasagna; he figures out the intricacies of the oven.

People start to pile in, three more families with kids from the program.  The table groans with drinks and cookies and fudge and a frosted cake–turns out, it’s not just Christmas: our young host has a birthday today, too. A pile of presents grows beneath the tree. The kids talk about Star Wars and superheroes and debate DC versus Marvel; a young artist passes around her cell phone to share her truly incredible artwork.  A young guitarist shows us his band’s professional calling card.  The food is hot; people grab plates,and our host sits in the place of honor, munching and beaming.

This was a group of strangers for mere moments.  Now we pass presents to the birthday guy; we take pictures; we cheer and exclaim.  Excited, he runs upstairs to change into a brand new shirt and, when he emerges, he gets a round of applause.  We eat cake and those frozen ice cream cones with the tops dipped in chocolate and nuts.  Jeff tries to get some singing going, but the attempt crashes and burns amid laughter and groans.

In the kitchen, gathering up, Mark and I talk with a young man (call him Matt) who’s a staff member, someone who works shifts in this little apartment so the birthday guy can successfully live on his own.  Matt tells us he’s actually off-shift, but he couldn’t stand the thought that our guy would be alone on the holiday–on his BIRTHDAY.  Jeff, Matt says, is amazing; this was probably one of the best Christmas-birthdays his young charge has ever had.

Jim shakes a lot of hands; the young people trade info; they promise to write and email and keep in touch.  We all take information about a zoo-lights expedition coming up the day after New Year’s. We part with hugs and laughter and hopes to see each other soon.  The ride home takes less than an hour; in 90 minutes, the oven is heated and the rib roast is scenting the house. The roads were great, the trip was no big deal–but the gathering was pretty major for a young guy who expected only to be alone.

***********
Such gifts this holiday season: of generosity, of artistry, of creation, of gathering and goodness.  Dark falls shortly after we arrive home, but it’s no threat. There is light.  In this season of darkness, I know there is light, there is warmth, and there is great, great hope.

Loolie Scrumptious

Valentine's Crafts

(A short tale, with recipes at the end.)

Normally I’d just fly to the conference, but then I talked to Loolie.

“You know,” she said, “if you stopped here on the way home, it would be just about halfway.  You could stay overnight on Saturday and we could have breakfast on Sunday. We could get together with TJ ; she’s going to be here for a shower. We could go JUNKING!”

There is a huge second-hand barn in a little wink-and-you’ll-miss-it village near Loolie’s home; it’s always an adventure to explore.

And it’s always an adventure to get together with Loolie, and with TJ, too.  So I drove to the conference.  It was about eight hours from my house, at a college town in central New York; I made a day’s drive of it to get there–stopping at fun little coffee shops, doing a little bookstore visiting, treating myself to a leisurely lunch. I took, all in all, about twelve hours to make that eight hour trip.  The conference was in my hotel; I had a nice night’s sleep and got up raring to confer.

And it was a good conference; I learned a lot, and I was on a panel; we worked really well together and our session drew a nice, receptive crowd.  On Saturday, the after-breakfast meeting broke up early–everyone clearly had already mentally headed out,– so I got on the road well before noon.

I was at my hotel in Loolie-town by 4:30; I grabbed a burger at a nearby pub and was back at my room, ready to settle in for the night, by 6:30.

And then my cell phone rang.  It was Loolie, of course.

“Where ARE you?” she demanded.

When I told her, she said, “Well, come over!”

I demurred; she was hosting us for breakfast the next morning and I didn’t want to impose, but she insisted. “I’m making my Valentines,” she said.  “You can keep me company. And we’ll have cookies and coffee, and you can help me decorate the ones we don’t eat.”

So of course I went.

Loolie was in her kitchen making our breakfast for the next day.  “Breakfast bake!” she crooned.  A variety of ingredients spread out over her counter.  She poured me coffee and assembled as we talked.  Into a greased, vintage Pyrex casserole went two hamburger buns and a slice and a heel of bread, ripped into bite-sized chunks.  Little dimes of cooked, chopped breakfast sausage joined chunks of ham on top of the bread.  Then she took a big glass Corningware measuring cup–the four cup kind–full of grated cheddar and swiss cheese, and she sprinkled it over the other ingredients.

She fluffed and spread–“Everybody should get a taste of sausage!” she said,– and then she poured an egg and milk concoction over the top. (“The secret,” she confided, “is a dash of dry mustard.”) She covered the whole thing  tightly with a sheet of foil and put it in the fridge.

“All I’ll have to do in the morning is put it in the oven and pour juice and coffee,” Loolie said, a little smugly.

She let me do up the few dishes while she mixed up some frosting in her Mixmaster, and we moved into the dining room, where two cookie sheets overflowed with heart-shaped cut-out cookies.

“Hokie smokes!” I said.  “Got a Valentine or two???”

She laughed.  “Kerri’s got a party,” she said.  “But trust me, these are so good, she and I could make a serious dent.  Let’s frost a while, and then we’ll have coffee and try some.”

She spread the icing; I sprinkled rosy tinted sugar on the freshly frosted cookies.  Of course, once frosted, they could not be stacked, so I kept running to the kitchen for more cookie sheets on which to spread the tasty, sticky treats.  Even working like a well-oiled machine, it took us most of an hour to frost all of those cookies.  When we were done, every flat surface in Loolie’s kitchen held a tray of cookies, the frosting drying. The dining room table was a sticky sugary mess.

I scrubbed while Loolie made coffee and kept up a loud running commentary.  Kerri was off with friends, gone to a hockey game in the city and wouldn’t be home till the wee hours.  Loolie’s brother Mick was retiring in two months and thinking of moving back to the area, snow or no snow; he really missed it.  Loolie herself was looking for a dressmaker’s model or mannequin when we junked; she had a cache of full-length aprons someone had made for her.

They were too nice, she said, to get all covered with frosting and sugar, but she’d love to display them, tied nicely onto a dressmaker’s dummy, in a corner of the kitchen.  I could see it; it was just the sort of unique touch Loolie could pull off with aplomb.

While she talked, she bustled, and soon we were ensconced at the table with a plate of cookies and steaming mugs of Italian roast.

I sipped the coffee. Ahhh; robust heaven.

“Try,” said Loolie, and she pushed the cookies my way.

I took one and took a bite.  Oh my.  Oh my.

“That tastes,” I flung downward from my cloud in seventh heaven, “like—”

“It IS!” she crowed. “Shortbread! Your mother’s recipe.”

They were thin and crisp and melt in my mouth buttery with a little glaze of sweetness on top. We ate the whole plate, between us, in about ten minutes.

“See what I mean?” asked Loolie.  “It looks like a lot of cookies, but once you start…”

“Keep them” I said darkly, “away from me!  I don’t think I have the willpower—”

Loolie laughed.  “No problem!” she said.  “Time to make some Valentine’s, anyway.”

She got up—ten minutes is about her resting-state limit–and swiped off the table, then began slapping down card-making materials.  She’d chopped up old file folders, cutting off the worn edges and saving a card-sized folding part.  She got, she said, two cards from each file, which otherwise was going to get recycled or thrown away.  They were from the church office, and they knew her at the church: before they threw anything out, they called Loolie.

She had a stack of envelopes a friend who worked retail had rescued for her.  There was a greeting card section in her store.  When the cards ‘expired’, they had to return the fronts and dispose of everything else.  Brand new envelopes, saved from the landfill! Loolie was practically crowing.

She had magazines from Februaries past; she had scissors, tape and glue.  She had tiny magnets printed with random words. She had scrips and scraps of ribbon and construction paper and paper doilies.  She had some ends of lace. She had the heart-shaped cookie cutters–cleaned, thank you–that she had used to make the cookies. She had markers and Crayolas.

She spread it all out, raised her hands like a conductor, and surveyed her little plot of creativity. She obviously deemed it good.  Lowering her hands, she nodded.

“Let us,” she said, “begin.”

And we did.  We dove into the magazines and cut out pictures and then ripped funny sayings and phrases from the ads.  We mixed and matched.  “You’ll love” went with “…the cook,” and landed on top of a heart-shaped cookie picture with a little, hand-drawn chef’s hat perched perkily atop.  “A TOAST to,” read the cover of one card.  Opened, it finished, “the nuts!” There were whole walnuts and almonds and peanuts, with markered-in stick arms and legs, clutching construction paper hearts and dancing around the card.

I mentioned that I’d seen deer tracks by her drive; the splayed grooves looked to me like splashy heartprints in the snow.  Loolie jumped up and grabbed her phone; she turned on the outdoor lights and ran out to snap some photos.  She bustled in, emailed the photos to herself, printed them out.  Sure enough, those prints looked like deeply engraved hearts.

Loolie snipped around them with pinking shears, and glued them on the cover of a card. “Here’s my heart,” she wrote.  Inside she added, “….you little deer!”

“I LOVE it!” she crowed.  “This is genius!”

We spent five hours making cards that night.  I haven’t had so much fun since I was in second grade, making Valentines for the class party. As I was getting up to leave–it was almost 1 AM,– I said, “You know the only thing we missed making were folders to hang on the front of our desks.”

Loolie Cards

Loolie got a surprised, thoughtful look on her face, and I said quickly, “But it’s too late! And we don’t need them!”

Her face fell a little, but she saw the wisdom, and she bustled me out to my car.  TJ was meeting us at 9:00 in the morning; we needed our rest before junking.

At 8:59 AM I was back at Loolie’s, reveling in the smell of baking eggs and bread and ham and cheese.  The three of us ate the whole casserole–oh, it was good.  We were licking the crumbs off our plates when Kerri wheeled in. TJ and I looked at each other in ashamed panic–we left nothing for that poor child!

But Loolie laughed and put her oven mitt on, and pulled a little, personal pan breakfast bake from the oven for her darlin’ daughter.  Kerri grinned at us.  We sighed and relaxed, and when Loolie asked, “Would you like a cookie or two to top that off?” we answered with one voice: “Yes!”

Urp.  We finally waddled off to the secondhand emporium, and if you’ve never junked with a Loolie,–well. You’ve never junked, that’s all.  But I’ll save that story–and the pictures of the aproned dressmaker’s dummy–for another day.

*****
It was good to get home, and  my guys were happy to see me; they’d had their own adventures, which they shared with me while they devoured a plate of shortbread cutouts, compliments of Loolie. And then, tired and traveled out, I unpacked my bag and soaked in my own tub before…ahhhhh: sleeping between my own sheets in my own sweet bed. Reality was waiting to welcome me back when Monday dawned.

That Wednesday, when I got home from work, I found a large square envelope in the mail; it was addressed to me in Loolie’s scrawl.  There was a note inside.  “Hang this on your fridge to store your Valentines,” it read.

I unfolded a beautifully decorated construction paper folder–just right for storing any Valentines that straggle in.  I hung it on the refrigerator; not much chance of the boys forgetting Valentine’s Day this year, is there?

Thanks, Loolie.  That, too, is truly scrumptious!

*********

Grandma Jean’s Shortbread Cookies

5 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 pound butter

Cream butter; add sugar. Blend well. Knead flour into dough a little at a time. (Loolie and I use  our Mixmasters for this step.) Roll out on a floured surface. Cut into shapes. Bake at 350 degrees until edges are golden brown. (These are melt-in-your mouth delicious with or without icing!)

*****

Loolie’s Breakfast Bake

4 slices stale bread and/or  buns

about 1 pound of meat–breakfast sausage, ham, etc. or any combination thereof

1 cup grated cheese–sharp cheddar, definitely; add whatever else you like.  Swiss adds zip; I like a little Asiago grated in, too.

6 eggs

2 cups milk

1 tsp dry mustard

good shake of parsley flakes

salt and pepper to taste

(This can be made ahead and left in fridge overnight. That may actually improve the flavor blends!)

Tear up bread and place in greased 13 x 9 x 2 casserole.

Brown sausage, if uncooked. Chop; sprinkle chopped meat over bread.  Sprinkle cheese over top.

Beat together eggs, milk, mustard, parsley, salt, and pepper. Pour over bread, cheese, and meat. Cover. Refrigerate if eating is far off.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  During the last ten minutes, take the cover off so the bake will brown nicely.

Cool slightly; cut into squares and serve.