Tuesday, July 31, 2012

in my kitchen {homegrown}

Our very first homegrown chicken, roasted with just-harvested carrots, potatoes, and squash, seasoned with garlic and fresh herbs. The leftover bones made the most incredible chicken stock, and the meat is still debuting in various salads and lunchtime fare.

Try this "5 minute bread" with honey butter. Oh my. I'm thinking it will also be delicious with curry chicken.

More garlic harvested. This batch I preserved by mincing up the cloves and freezing them for future use. 

A Snuffleupagus impersonating pear. Our pear tree is bearing a lot of fruit this year (not all this strange-looking, though!)

This is simple, simple food, but there really is nothing like a meal grown right outside your doorstep or made from scratch in your kitchen. I hope you get to experience the deep satisfaction of this, too! What are you eating these days?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

day of reckoning

As the day to process the meat chickens drew imminently closer, I found myself going through an internal process as well. I seriously contemplated becoming a vegetarian (again) - I was briefly vegan in college (weren't we all?!) - and on more than one occasion I questioned my sanity in taking the plunge to raise our own meat. I had a bit of a meltdown at one point, wishing I had someone else to do all this "dirty work" for me. I reminded myself that these birds had a better life and more compassionate death than any other meat I've ever consumed. Still, I wanted to keep putting off the "harvest meat birds" date on the calendar, somehow convincing myself that just one more week would magically make the ordeal easier. But then, my brother-in-law came to stay with us a few days, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to have an extra pair of hands, as well as someone who was willing and had a bit of experience with the process himself. He grew up in Vietnam, where the only way to afford meat was to grow it yourself! So just like that, the day snuck up. The birds were exactly ten weeks. I wasn't sure how to properly say my goodbyes. I thanked them, and kind of wished they could comprehend how much their sacrifice meant to us - Then I became glad they live for the moment and don't contemplate death.

There is such a heaviness to the kind and amount of work it takes to help transition something that's alive into something that's consumed at a dinner table. I'm not sure I can describe it right now, or that I will ever be able to fully comprehend the magnitude of it. As we discussed our experience, though, we were able to articulate the deeply felt connection we have to the life and death of these chickens. Their death allows our continuation of life, and neither of these exists in isolation. Neither is without purpose, and the end of one isn't really an end at all, but a passing to something else. If the life that was taken lived well, and the person taking it is honorable and kind, what passes on is good and honorable as well. What is consumed is nourishing and filling in every sense. And perhaps the opposite of this is also true. Which is why thoughtful consumption of food, most especially meat, is so important (you don't literally have to know your food, as we do, but certainly it is good and wise to know where your food comes from). Truly, this is what it means to eat well.

Monday, July 23, 2012

grilled garden pizza

It's nearing my favorite time of year for cooking, when a lot of what's on our plates comes directly from the garden. I love wandering around in there before dinner, gathering herbs and vegetables ready for picking, and dreaming of the possibilities. At least once a week during summertime, we eat "garden pizza." 

Rather than wait for dough to rise, I often just prepare flour tortillas (sometimes using a little whole wheat flour instead of all white) to serve as the base for the pizzas. The small size makes nice individual servings, and everyone can have the toppings they love best. We also like how these make for a thin and crispy crust. 

To make the sauce, I saute garlic and onion in a little olive oil, and add diced tomatoes, cooking until it forms a paste-like consistency. Then I add a little sugar and a lot of oregano. This time I threw in some basil, too.

The really fun part is the toppings, which is whatever the garden gives that day, and whatever else I have on hand. The pizzas I made recently were topped with raw goat's milk cheese, zucchini, sweet pepper, basil, and Italian sausage.

I like cooking the pizzas on the grill, although getting a thin, wobbly, uncooked tortilla filled with sauce and (overly) abundant toppings onto the grilling surface can be tricky, unless you have one of those pizza paddle things (of which I really ought to have by now, but still don't). So, I improvise by building the pizzas on a heavily floured cutting board and then just quickly sliding them off onto the grill. It feels like trying to remove a tablecloth out from underneath dishes and wine glasses - a little pre-dinner magic that makes a humble pizza seem more daring! (I bet someone has a better way, and just so the whole magic pizza trick doesn't deter you, they are very easy to remove with a big metal spatula once done cooking).

One day, I'll have a fancy outdoor cob oven and equally appropriate pizza paddle. But until then, this fits the bill just fine.

Friday, July 20, 2012

losing to a fox

No sooner do I post a loving tribute to our laying hens than do we have a fox to reckon with. Late in the afternoon yesterday, I saw "That One" running and squawking like a crazed chicken in front of the house. I ran out to the porch, heard lots of commotion, and in a split second, caught a glimpse of a fox near the far end of the garden. I sent Aki after the fox, who barely breathed in that direction before the intruder hopped the fence and got chased away by the neighboring llamas. I saw the Wallflower hiding in the corner of the porch. She was missing some tail feathers and bleeding a bit on her side. I ran like a mad woman - bare-footed and baby-in-arms - toward the chickens' pasture. I saw Tiny and a couple hens near the barn. I feared the rest were gone, and called the dogs in to help me search. They dove in the pond, finding one perched high on the garden fence and another completely in the water. I couldn't get to her right away, and worried she may drown. Aki helped nudge her to the shore. The two other Pilgrims were hiding in the bush by the house - bare-bottomed, but alive. After some time scouring the property, Little Red appeared from behind the wood pile, and finally 3 more were found hiding. Two of the Orpingtons were still unaccounted for, and one we found lifeless in the field, later carried ever so gently in Aki's mouth and placed at our feet; The other presumably taken away by the fox.

Most of the chickens were half-wet, and it seems they jumped into the pond trying to escape the attack. Tiny's feathers are strewn about in several places - our good boy put up a good fight. And all the remaining 11 have a good chance at healing up from the ordeal - all can walk, one has a deeper wound that I'll look after, but none seem maimed or stressed beyond their capacity to cope. How very far this farming thing stretches me, though, to the brink of my capacities.

As we were in the field frantically looking for our hens, and thinking what to do with the injured ones, I had this moment of pause where I looked at the calmness all around me - the stillness of the trees, the quiet humming of nature, the distant neighbor's horses heading in for their supper - and I almost wanted to break that encompasing peace by crying out, "Doesn't anyone realize what just happened here?!" How can life all around go on so normally, so quickly? I suppose that's how anyone suffering a loss must feel. Nature changes and adapts, while I look for a reason and grasp at controlling the untamed, fueled by the pains of guilt. Even the hens themselves were back to normal a mere hour or two after the ordeal, as they foraged about, scratched at the grain I threw down as a treat, and preened themselves. Do they remember, I wonder? Is this a gift given to non-human animals; the ability to learn from experiences, but somehow quickly forget the details? For all but that brief moment, I feel in the details is where I perhaps linger far too often.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunday, July 15, 2012

meet the brood

We gave the chickens' barn a big ol' clean-out recently, and they seem very happy with their fresh bedding and updated nest boxes.

We have a nice variety of hens, most of them being dual-purpose heritage breeds. This bunch we have now all came to us as pullets, some which I sought out, and others who just kind of made their way here. We love them all! Some of them have nicknames, but we don't actively name them unless the mood strikes.

You've already met Tiny, and here's the rest of our brood:

Our 3 beautiful Barred Plymouth Rocks, who we call "The Pilgrims." One of them has always been plump and mild-mannered, another kind of runty and flighty, and the third a through-and-through wallflower. 

We have 4 Buff Orpingtons, one with a crooked rump, who I like to call "my buddy" since she used to perch on my knee as a youngster. One of these also has unique green eyes, which are lovely and creepy at the same time. 

Two of the hens are Ameraucana/Araucanas, and I just love their coloring and chipmunk cheeks. The lighter one (named "that one," as in, "One of the chickens is out." " Which one?"  "You know, that one.") lays darker greenish eggs, and the darker one lays light blue eggs.   

Then we have 2 Rhode Island Reds, who are sometimes referred to as big red and little red, although they're not all that different in size. 

This is "White Devil," our fancy footed Light Brahma, who we were originally worried about introducing to the first round of pullets we had. We thought she was mild-mannered and that she also might get picked on for looking different. BUT, she actually took charge upon that first meeting, pouncing and pecking every other pullet in sight. And she's no lightweight, so they all listened. 

This is our shimmering Speckled Sussex, affectionately called "Hawkbait" since she likes to roam off by herself every so often. She's also a big goofball. Here she is knocking on the door to the meat bird pen.  

So, there you have it! Thirteen hens (and one rooster), all unique and wonderful in their own way, and so giving of the rainbow of eggs we have the privilege to gather every day. 

P.S. Have you seen Henderson's Handy Dandy Chicken chart? I referred to it quite a bit when first starting out and trying to identify which egg came from which hen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

whipped honey butter

Sweet butter is our new favorite thing. I make butter like I usually do (minus the salt), and then add 4 Tablespoons of honey and whip it for about 10 seconds in the food processor.  So Good. I've found that a 1 to 3 ratio of honey to butter is just right for us - so, for 1 Cup of butter, add 1/3 Cup of honey. You can also substitute agave syrup for the honey, making your butter authentically Southwestern.

I was feeling fancy with this last batch, and made some into little balls using two small measuring spoons.

There is arguably nothing better than fresh, sweet butter on just-out-of-the-oven homemade bread. Everyone should try it at least once in her life, and I'm certain the world would be an even better place.

Monday, July 9, 2012

first garlic harvest!

The fragrance of this garlic is intoxicating. It's amazing to think I planted a handful of small cloves way back in last November. And here we are in July, finally with some rain and below 100 degree temps to quench our parched soil. The rain is what prompted me to go ahead and get the softneck garlic out of the ground before it became too soaked. The hardnecks still have quite a few green leaves, so I'll let them be for another week or two.

We've had a couple major setbacks the past few days, so it feels good to see that something went right! (even if that something is as simple as some braided garlic to hang in the kitchen).

Sunday, July 8, 2012

a knitted baby cuddle blanket

My littlest niece just celebrated her first birthday, and I wanted to make her something special. She was born just weeks after my baby, and being in my own little baby/new motherhood world, I never got the chance to make her a blanket like I intended. So, I recently rectified that by knitting up this small, soft blanket for her, since she likes baby-sized things to cuddle.

The pattern is very simple and just something I made up (no doubt influenced by the many washcloths I made while first learning to knit). My self-imposed requirement was that it be easy enough to put down at a moment's notice and be picked up again later without losing my place or having to count rows and such things.

Here's how I made it:

Makes an (approximately) 8 inch X 12 inch blankie

US 9 straight needles
Worsted weight yarn, less than a 50 gram ball, or two balls of different colors 
Small crochet hook for weaving in ends


CO 64 stitches

Row 1: *K1, P1* repeat until end of row
Row 2: *P1, K1* repeat until end of row
Repeat Rows 1 and 2 until border measures about 1 inch long, ending on a right side row

Next row after border: K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, knit until last 6 stitches, then K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1
Next row: P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, knit until last 6 stitches, then P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1
Repeat the above two rows until blanket measures 7 inches.

(If you'd like to make it two-toned like I did, switch yarns after blanket measures 4 inches, and knit with this contrasting yarn for 3 inches)

After blanket measures 7 inches, repeat rows 1 and 2 for another inch to complete the border.

Bind off and weave in ends.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

just when I thought I had it all figured out...

You know how knowledge works in that strange way, where the more you think you know, the more you come to realize you don't actually know? Right. Just when I thought I had figured out exactly what to do with our garden area...just when we gathered the necessary materials...and started building away...and began lamenting the fact that the space wasn't going to be quite ready for all I had envisioned this summer...just then...I SAW THIS.

I think I mentioned that we were wanting to move toward permaculture farming, but until now, I hadn't really come across anything succinct or simple enough for me to feel comfortable putting the method into practice. I was always gathering bits and pieces of the puzzle, but honestly didn't understand exactly how they fit together or in what order.  

And that's the odd thing about the timing of all this, really. I'm sure all those puzzle pieces were easily placed, but I'm not sure I was ready to see the picture just yet. I tend to have a plan, deliberately and sometimes painfully thought out, which often makes it difficult to adapt when things (inevitably) go astray. My life lesson. Yes, very much so.  

But I've learned that when better knowledge comes along, I would be foolish to blindly follow my plan and ignore it. I know that it would feel wrong that way.

And I know that changing course at what initially seems like the most inopportune time can actually lead to better things.

So our vision for this garden space has shifted course a bit. There's still much work to be begun, but building up our soil in this way just feels right. I'm excited at the new road ahead - unfamiliar and unplanned, but oh it feels good to be free that way!

Have you experimented with the no-till method? I'm so curious how it worked for you if you're willing to share!
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