Monthly Archives

June 2012

The Worldly Ways of Backyard Hens

The Great Divide.

Saving the world from an Internet sorely deficient in cute-baby-animal videos, I offer the following 52 seconds of baby chick adorableness for Earth’s viewing pleasure.
On Saturday all indicators pointed toward lovely weather so we sectioned off an area adjacent the hen yard to let the silkies out for a first fresh air excursion. Initially they sat in an astonished heap as our fat hens patrolled the dividing fence. But grass seed is considerably tastier than chick chow and in short order they forgot the seething flock and went about a chicken’s business of scratching and pecking.
Three’s company. 
Death stare to no avail.
As for the Ladies, well, you cannot imagine the irreparable disruption we caused to their strict dust bath and compost-picking regime. They gathered at the fence in disgust – what could these awful things be? A threat? Mobile ottoman? Flavorful afternoon refresh-ments? As far as Chuck Norris was concerned (you may hold The Girl accountable – as do we – for the names of our chickens) – a former flock queen dethroned in late adolescence after her comb was disfigured in a failed yard-break attempt – the whole thing was scandalous. She leveled baby Lavender a one-eyed stare designed to reduce the child to ruin, but our little chicklet wobbled up to the fence and gazed right back, oblivious.
Chunky, the current reigning queen (of Halloween fame), took a slyer approach. She called a conference at the far end of the yard were conspiratorial glances were cast over shoulder and mean words mumbled under breath. After that the hens ignored the babies altogether as popular girls often do, but it suited the rest of us just fine. The little ones were left to explore in peace, glancing over only occasionally to mimic the worldly ways of backyard hens.

10-Mile Meals

Our bounty from Saturday’s Farmer’s Market run.

A few years ago The Husband read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and it got us thinking about the seriously weird stuff we humans now pass off as food. It also got us thinking about the politics of food and life back when people were self-regulating, counting on their own — and the local community’s — enterprise to fill basic needs. Food wasn’t convenient or fast but people could pronounce the ingredients; and hardly anyone was compulsively hoarding useless chachkies from a local megamart.
Signs of Summer.
About that time The Husband and I also started noticing other things: the bunches and bunches of local food farms, farmer’s markets and little road-side veggie stands surrounding us; the fact that we felt better after eating fresh food rather than crispy chicken strips out of a cardboard box; that our food choices appeared to be damaging our health. We started talking about raising chickens and planting a garden and several times even toyed with the idea of making local farms our primary food source for a summer. Just for the fun of it.
It took a couple years of gradual toe dipping into the proverbial sustainability water but when spring rolled around this year The Husband and I felt ready to revisit the local food idea. In May we issued ourselves this challenge: make farmer’s markets, local farms and our own garden our family’s primary source for food this summer. We decided to try and ‘make do’ with Thursday/Saturday trips to the Skaneateles Farmer’s Market, visits to Wake Robin Farm’s store and an occasional trek to the Regional Market.
The Husband’s Lamb, Spinach and home-made Pasta dish
from Farmer’s Market sources.
This game of Make-Do has unexpectedly turned into something fun and delicious. We’re making friends, learning how to cook with fresh ingredients, and discovering a rich food culture in our region.
Now that we’re about a month into this thing I figured I’d share what I/we’ve learned so far:
Scape and asparagus.
We Don’t Know Much: There are a whole bunch of edible plants growing in the region that I’ve never heard of. What the heck is a scape? Or a rabe? Or rocket? And how do you prepare these things? Turns out the people who grow and sell food are also very willing to share family recipes. We’re trying new foods constantly.
Variety Abounds:We get our whole milk, cheeses, and yogurt at Wake Robin Farms; at the Skaneateles farmer’s market we get fresh local lamb, beef, chicken, goat cheese, canned goods, breads, herbs, and all manner of vegetables, both known and unknown. The flavor is worlds, worlds better than the processed stuff. No comparison.
Eating Local Makes You Loco: I thought this challenge was going to be too difficulty to stick with but the opposite is true: we’re energized, maybe because of the better food choices we’re making, and motivated to permanently cut out as much imported and processed food as we can. We’re looking into canning and charcuterie, pickling and salting, smoking and drying, to preserve our food for the winter.  
These Andy’s turnips are delicious
blanched or candied.
A New Kind of Saturday: Saturdays have become a new kind of day – one of food preparation for the upcoming week. Delicate, leafy produce spoils quickly unless thoroughly washed, dried and wrapped; meats and veg bought in bulk have to be separated and frozen or canned; we’ve learned to cook en mass and to anticipate future need. Saturdays have become the food-prep and preserve day for the upcoming week.
You Just Never Know: We’re dependent on what is in season, and weather, and temperature, the health of the farmer — all things we never gave a thought to before. We just never know exactly what will be on our plates in any given week, and we’ve learned not to freak out about it. We’ll figure it out. This is a diabolic shift in our food consumption and our attitude about food in general. It requires us to succumb to the process of cooking what we have on hand, even if those ingredients are the same ones we made our meals out of yesterday. Developing a robust recipe collection has been key to keeping us on track.
Beans from Ethiopia. El Salvador and Guatemala
roasted in The Husband’s  Behmor 1600.
Buying Local is Socially Gratifying: Building relationships with the people who grow and raise our food has been the single most enjoyable aspect of this challenge. These people are passionate. They are knowledgeable. And, frankly, in an apocalypse these are the folks you want to know.
Exceptions: There are certain things we cook with and consume that are not and never will be produced locally:  olive oil; coffee (The Husband is a home roaster and buys his green beans from Sweet Marias. He roasts in-house with his Behmor 1600 – this isn’t going to change); bananas (I love them – don’t judge).
So where do we get our food these days?
Good Karma Garlic
Navarino Orchard– Sweet onions and potatoes, apples, strawberries, peaches, canned goods, fruit pies. (they also make barley and peanut butter doggie treats that our mutt loves.)
Byrne Black Angus
Byrne Black Angus– These guys do one thing: natural, grass-feed black angus beef.
Wake Robin Farm – Yogurt, artisan cheeses, and milk. Visitors usually get to see the cows just outback in the pasture.
Meadowood Farms Lamb sausage and a sheep’s milk brebis.
Susanville Good Karma Garlic – A large variety of garlic and tomatoes, and seasonal vegetables. The Good Karma Garlic keeps the fresh veg coming well into the cold season.
An October Rose broiler smoked on
The Husband’s grill.
October Rose Farm– Free range and antibiotic free eggs, chicken and turkey. 
Other Seeds of Change that got this Fat American thinking:
Food, Inc. documentary
Fresh documentary
The Future of Food documentary

Salad, Silkies, and a Wall.

Is it just me or are our new baby silkies members of the chive family?

Weeks have passed since I’ve had a free day to get outside and take inventory of the work we’ve put into this place. Could that explain the melancholy? The second the rain stopped yesterday I grabbed the camera and took off with the dog for a long explore. Bliss.

Our pallet garden shows signs of basil and summer salad greens. The last wild strawberries are coming on and the black raspberry bush is loaded – next week we’ll make jelly. The husband’s herb garden is taking shape and after a false start with lousy soil arugula is finally springing up in the pots on the deck. I tossed a handful of apple scraps to the ladies as I passed which they completely ignored until my back was turned. Our hens are touchy these days on account of us restricting their wayward excursions with a fence. But we were mindful: the hen yard is now so large the grass doesn’t show a sign of stress even after three weeks of poop and pecking. And despite their huffy attitudes we still win: I’m collecting eggs from the nesting box again.

Speaking of ridiculous chicken behavior, we got three more. In terms of poultry, can you ever really have enough? These fussy little silkies serve no earthly purpose other than to amuse The Girl. On my birthday last weekend the State Fair held a poultry show and I pinky-swore I would find a source for a silky chick (note: “A” silky chick. Singular. Numero uno). As fate would have it we encountered a crate full of for-sale baby silkies for cheap and next thing I knew we were carting three home: two I vaguely remember agreeing to plus a “bonus bird” – the runt of the litter who was just a woebegone, bedraggled little thing the seller threw in for free because it was on death’s door anyway.
Tigger enjoys the silkies as well.
Gee, thanks. Obviously The Girl latched onto the ugly runt (who has since been christened “Noodle”) with a vengeance. At first the poor thing slept standing up because the other two pecked it when it sat down and the second it fell asleep on its feet they would pick out its neck feathers. I read up on this and learned the runt of the chicken litter often dies of sleep deprivation due to this pecking-order horror show. So The Girl took matters into her own hands. She wrapped Noodle up in paper towel and carried it around in her shirt where it slept safely and warmly for hours every day. The silly bird has put on weight, now sleeps in the huddle with the other two, and has developed a gigantic attitude in the chick corral.

I call it Noodle Bonaparte the Third. Surly it will turn out to be a rooster. Good lord, are silky roosters noisy? I hope not for the neighbor’s sake. Because there’s no turning back on it now.
Aside from all this my wall is waiting. I finished the longer section and now have the steps and the short side to assemble. It’s a wicked heap of rubble but enough is enough; it will be finished by summer’s end.

Another 584,020,178 Miles Down

So, yeah. Birthdays. How about ‘em.
For a girl my age, it’s a little ridiculous how important birthdays are to me. Truth is, I view birthdays as astronomical events, a marker for the moment we began our first solo-orbit around the sun. Each one represents another 584,020,178 miles down and the starting flag for a new revolution.
None of that means birthdays are easy, and the one I had last weekend was a son-of-a-gun. Probably because the average life expectancy for a women living in the United States is 80.8 years, meaning I’ve officially crossed over the event horizon. I’m solidly living in the ‘other half.’
At my husband’s birthday party in January a friend asked him about his goals for his personal new year. The Husband and I had to stop and carefully consider this important question. Birthday Goals are distinct from New Year’s Resolutions for this reason: Birthday Goals are less about self-improvement and more about self-reflection. And because self-reflection too often cracks open the window to self-regret, it’s not an activity I’m particularly eager to engage in. On the other hand, even a small crack provides entry for the sun’s disinfecting rays so I suppose it’s good to embrace a nice uncomfortable soul cleansing every once in awhile. Like once a year, maybe.
When I’m visited on occasion by the ghosts of old ambitions it is still hard not to whine about the stuff that wasn’t supposed to happen and pine for the stuff that never will. Like total world domination – I had some solid plans for it back in my twenties. Two decades later my master goal is to make it to the finish line with a net gain, having given back a little bit more than I took. I call it my Succumbing to Progress project.
On this turn around the sun I’ve decided to make self-actualization a goal, I see no point in thinking small. To stack the deck in my favor I’m following His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Twitter; I’m eating more vegetables; attempting to hate the dog less; cutting back on carbs. Ready or not the Universe has seen fit to give me a crack at another revolution and I’m determined to savor it one rotation at a time. So happy middle-age birthday to me. And many more.