Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Life is pure adventure -Maya Angelou

Someone really needs to clean this window.

It's been such a mish-mash of random things around here over the last 24 hours.  Mostly hilarious.  The little guy was running around before his bath yesterday and peed on the floor, then immediately started scrubbing at the puddle. With my toothbrush.  He also lost his balance yesterday and headbutted me.  I have a black eye.  I had a dream last night that I was at an estate sale with Orson Welles.  Another dream that my mother was waiting outside of the post office for me in a car that was shaped like the little man's clown fish bath toy.  

I love small things like this.  I love life desperately.

We need to go grocery shopping this afternoon, badly.  I'll be out and about with my toddler, his runny nose and my black eye.  I found the concealer I bought the last time I gave myself a shiner and tried to cover it, sort of.  There seems to be a fine line between covering a black eye and trying to cover UP a black eye. But we need to go. We're out of milk, food, beer and I'm using our last extra toothbrush.

I was reminded of Maya Angelou's essay "Living Well. Living Good." and took a moment to re-read it today.  You can read it here.  In part, she writes that: 

"Because of the routines we follow, we often forget that life is an ongoing adventure. We leave our homes for work, acting and even believing that we will reach our destinations with no unusual event startling us out of our set expectations. The truth is we know nothing, not where our cars will fail or when buses will stall, whether our places of employment will be there when we arrive, or whether, in fact, we ourselves will arrive whole and alive at the end of our journeys. Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen. "

If you have the time, this interview from The Atlantic is brilliant.

Who knew the day would take you here?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Growing & Cooking Meat Silkie Chickens

The only "graphic" picture here is me cutting the breast meat off of a chicken.  No gore. No worries.

Oh, Silkie chickens.  Take a look.  Aren't they so pretty?  They look like big balls of fluff and are mostly kept for pets in this country.  But in parts of Asia they are used for cooking a special dish because they have... wait for it... black skin, meat and bones.  Yep.  Black.  If that isn't odd enough they also have EXTRA TOES. In fact, I read that when they're sold the heads and feet are traditionally left on so the buyer can be assured they're getting a genuine Silkie.

They're used to make a traditional soup with ginger, mushrooms and goji berries.  I wanted to cook that soup, bad, but in order to make it I needed the magic ingredient, the Silkie.  We live in the middle of nowhere so it's not like I was getting one at the local specialty market.  When Tractor Supply had chicks last spring I spotted two in the "Assorted Bantam" bin while I was buying meat peeps. Easy enough to pick them out because of the black skin and extra toes - nothing else looks like them.  There's not a lot of information out there about raising them for meat so I thought I would document my experience for anyone who may be curious.

I treated them exactly like I did the Red Ranger chicks, as in I did nothing at all special.  No special feed just chick starter.  Then when they were all old enough they were switched over to the regular layer crumble that the rest of my flock eats.  They lived in the poultry yard and ate greens, bugs, and kitchen scraps and ran around in the sunshine.  When the Rangers were butchered at 12 weeks the Silkies went too.  Raised this way, at 12 weeks they both dressed out at about 2 1/2 lbs each.  But they're bantams and were never going to be large.  To contrast, the Ranger chickens dressed out at around 5 1/2 - 6 1/2 lbs.

Here's a Silkie with no clothes on.  The skin is not black exactly, but more very dark purple.  The woman at the local processing place bagged the giblets separately for the two Silkies but didn't need to - they were also dark colored.  I guess sometimes Silkies do come in at the processing place - and the older employees use the "suprise" to harass any newbies who don't know any better.  As in "What the hell did you DO to that customer's chicken?!"  Oh, butchering jokes.  Haha.

Here's what it looked like when I started to take the breast meat off.  You can see that the bones and meat are, in fact, darker.  It seems like the connective tissues have a lot of pigmentation as well.  I also want to mention that the bones and connective tissue were very, very soft on this chicken.  I have no idea if that was due to the breed or the age.

At only 2 1/2 lbs, I am able to get 3 meals out of one of these.  The first night I took the breasts and thighs off and made chicken piccata.  The meat was very tender and tasted like, well, chicken.  Tonight I made the dish I'd grown them for.  There are a ton of recipes for it on-line and I followed the directions here for Silkie Chicken Soup.  It includes the Silkie, dried mushrooms, goji berries and ginger.  I could not find red dates and there's something that creeps me out about ordering imported food via Amazon so I left those out.  Our local Aldi had goji berries for $4.99 around New Year's and I snagged a bag then.

Here it is:

The verdict?  I am a very adventurous person when it comes to food but I actually couldn't eat this.  It might be a cultural difference but the mushrooms ruined the soup.  And I love mushrooms.  All of the recipes called for including dried mushrooms which results in a soup full of soggy, boiled mushrooms.  If I were to do it again I would saute fresh mushrooms and add those. The broth was very good though.  So meal #3 from the chicken will happen tomorrow when I use the strained broth to make something (rice?).  The cats also got a bowl of scraps out of it. 

Also I found that I really, really like goji berrries so that's a bonus.

So, summary: at 12 weeks they finished at 2 1/2 lbs each.  I have no ideas about food costs but am guessing all told they cost about $8 per chicken after processing ($3 per peep, $2.50 to process, the rest in feed).  Not bad for the fun I had.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wildlife pictures & other stuff

Wanted to share some pictures taken with my game camera.  This time we set it up by a deer rib cage in my parent's back yard, by a creek.  Look what showed up!

Well, hello!

I'm not exactly sure what's going on here but it's pretty cool.

A coyote!

The house is walking distance from town but on the edge of a very large and wild section of woods.  Some pretty interesting things have come through over the years; a bobcat, the bear that destroyed a beehive and once a porcupine.  Lots of fun.  With the exception of the beehive of course. 

Not much else going on here this week.  I baked this cinnamon swirl quick bread to take visiting tomorrow.  Made some bread, some homemade soups.  We ate well.

Think that I've solved the question of how to grow herbs in the house over the winter.  There's not a lot of light in our place is the problem. I had been trying to grow them in the kitchen but it was a bust.  We had a sunny day when it occurred to me that the cats, being solar-powered, really favor one particular window.

Unfortunately it's right in front of my sewing desk.  So far I have two pots of rosemary and a small one of cilantro growing.  So far the cats have kept their paws to themselves.  We'll see. 

We're having another warm front and the ducks have all decided to molt at once.  The garden looks like a duck exploded.  

This.  All over. 

It remains to be seen if this guy is going to get to stay or not.  So far he hasn't tried to kill me yet but he is really lacking a certain *ahem* finesse with the ladies so to speak.  Mr. Rooster liked to woo the hens.  This guy not so much. More like he chases them around the yard until they collapse.  Maybe he'll get it out of his system or maybe one of the hens is going to have enough one day and stomp him.  Or I'll have enough of seeing it and he'll get turned into dinner.  I'm thinking of bringing in a flock of cochins in the spring instead of hatching eggs.  He is pretty though.  It could go either way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Craft win - soft book

Here's something else I've been working on for the little guy for car trips.  Google "quiet book" and you'll find lots of examples of small books made out of felt with interchangeable pages.  This was originally supposed to be a Christmas gift but I got really confused on how to bind the pages and it didn't get finished in time.  I had made my pages out of felt and couldn't decide out how to bind them - most people either stitch finish the edges (I don't have a serger) or back them with cotton (would take too long and be too fiddly).  A couple of days ago it occurred to me, duh, that the book was made from FELT, which doesn't unravel, so why not just back the pages in felt too?  It's for a toddler, it doesn't have to be a masterpiece and he's not going to care if my edges are wonky.  The pages are about 5x7 and will be "bound" together by a eyelet in the upper left corner.  Then they'll be threaded onto a key loop.  This way I can add or swap out pages as he gets bored with them.

I got so much joy from this project.  I wanted to make him a book that contained animals so I went through my fabric scraps and it snowballed from there.  The designs just kind of happened as I went.  Each page has something interesting that he can explore with his hands.

Pipe cleaner "hook", ribbon seaweed and ribbon "coral".

Rabbit tails are pom-poms, vegetables are barely tacked down so the edges can be lifted.

The beads can be moved along the ribbon and the ribbons have different textures.

 I love this one.  The zipper can be open and shut.

Buttons and textured flower ribbon.

This is a fun one.  All of the leaves lift up.

Bonus page.  An I-Spy bag.  He can manipulate the rice to "find" the objects: a penny, sequins, a 4-leaf clover, beads. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Craft win - I Spy ocean bag

I've been doing a little bit of crafting this week in odd moments and it's made me almost giddy with happiness  No stress, just pipe cleaners, glitter and glue.  No pressure there.  And I love how this turned out.  It's an I-spy toy that I made for the little guy for when we take car trips.  Give "I Spy sensory bag" a google and you'll find tons of ideas for these.  The basic premise being that you fill a freezer bag with hair gel (seriously - hair gel) and then float tiny toys in it.  The bag can be manipulated by tiny hands to squish the "water" and find the objects.  I wish I would have made some of these when he was little, like 6 months old would have been great but I think he'll really enjoy it. 

It was so inexpensive to make, too.  Most all of it came from the dollar store. I used a 16 oz container of hair gel ($1) and two freezer bags (one inside the other in case of a leak) The duct tape used to reinforce the seams was $1 and the glitter and sequins $1.  The shells and ribbon scrap I had.  I could not find any tiny fish where I live so I bought some orange oven-bake clay and made them myself (also $1).

Don't all fish smile?

Close up of the "water".  The fish look like they're floating belly up here.  Hmm.

Stay tuned for more crafting this week. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Growing, cooking new foods & Jamie Oliver

Feel like I've been in kind of a cooking rut the last couple of months.  Winter produce around here is terrible so it's hard to get inspired without fresh vegetables from the garden everyday.  I found myself cooking the same things over and over and over and it was just boring.  I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this. No one complained but I was pretty sick of my own cooking.

Over the holiday I picked up a couple of new Jamie Oliver books for myself.  The bookstore by my in-laws house was having a big sale and I think I got them for about $6 each.  We love Jamie Oliver in this house and with these I now own 6 of his cookbooks.  

I marked a ton of new things to try and so far have tried the following from Jamie's Food Revolution:

Broccoli & Pesto Tagliatelle: Meh.  It was good and a nice change but I don't think I'll make it again.  It somehow managed to be rich and bland at the same time.  The idea of adding potato was intriguing and I may do that again in another fashion.

Pot-roast Meatloaf: I didn't think I would ever call a meatloaf stunning but this is damn delicious and shockingly fast to pull together.  I think 10 minutes, tops, to get the meatloaf in the oven and the sauce came together in about 5. 

Parsnip and Ginger Soup: Again, quick. I prepped and cooked the veg while simultaneously re-heating leftovers and eating lunch.  Then I blended it with the chicken stock (see below) and put in the crock pot on low to hang out until dinner.  He suggests a little crumbled bacon on top, but I don't know if I'll bother because it seems incredibly rich already. I don't know what I was thinking.  YES to crumbled bacon and some toasted panko crumbs.  It's delicious.  

Not Jamie Oliver related, but part of the parsnip soup:  yesterday I cooked an Easter Egger layer hen that was culled this fall.  She was almost 5 years old and I really had my doubts about if the meat was going to be edible.  She simmered all day with carrots, celery and herbs and then the shredded meat was made into enchiladas.  I am not kidding when I say this is the BEST CHICKEN I HAVE EVER EATEN. Legs and thighs were so dark, they nearly looked like lamb.  The meat was a little stringy, sure, but the intense flavor more than made up for it.  Besides, it worked fine for the dish I made.  Also got about 2 quarts of the most intensely yellow chicken stock.  

So, reading about these new dishes prompted another seed order from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  

Dixie Speckled Lima Bean, Carentan Leek, Masterpiece Fava Bean, Thai Lavender Frog Egg Eggplant, Free Seed - Black Vernissage Tomato

Would anyone like these tomato seeds?  They seem identical to Violet Jasper, one of my favorites, but I already have seeds for them.  Send me an e-mail cottontailfarm@yahoo.com and I'll send them to you.

Updated my seed inventory again.  I've never grown leeks or fava beans before, any tips?  Never really had any luck germinating eggplant either but I hope I can get a couple of these plants started.  They look really pretty and are supposed to be the size of a cherry tomato!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The rural update - stamp collecting, poultry & a book review

So, what's happened this week besides just surviving?

We had a really warm day, I don't remember which one, where all of the snow melted off and then it rained and rained and rained.  The asparagus bed flooded and the ducks and a field day.  I'm glad they got to enjoy it because it's over with now - it was about 8 degrees today.

There was a lot of laziness.  There was a day when I totally shirked all but the very basic adult responsibilities and spent the day tinkering with my stamp collection.  Does anyone even collect stamps anymore?  Some of my hobbies would make a person think I was 80 years old.  Or 12.  Whatever.  My father found a grocery sack full of stamps from when I was younger and gave it to me.  There are three bowls here: "duplicates", "foreign" (my uncle lived in England)  and "check the book".  There's a binder that I organize the stamps into, in kind of a "collect one of each from 1800-something to modern day" fashion.  I am trying to find one best example of each stamp.  It's like putting together a puzzle and is really soothing in a mindless way.

There was a lot of napping that day as well.  

What else?  Another seed order arrived in the mail today.  I'll talk about this later in the week. 

Big news:  I have decided to go ahead and order myself a flock of geese.  I've wanted them for years.  We only live once, just what the hell am I waiting for anyway?  Call it an inheritance of spirit if you will.  I'm leaning towards Brown Africans.   Wow, are they stunning.  We don't have a pond but we do have a bunch of kiddie pools and I can turn on a hose when I need to. 

And I read a book last night; A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham.  He's my favorite author.  You can read a NPR interview about it here.  I don't have the energy to review it.  He took classic fairy tales and explored the human emotion hidden between the lines.  I will say that it is a book I will read again and again and gain a better understanding each time I open it.   It's a book that explores the wonder and frailty of being human.   And that Michael Cunningham seems to have been blessed with a window into love and the human condition that I cannot remotely understand how he channels.  It's amazing.  

Made several loaves of bread, served up homemade soup.  Survived on mostly beer and lunchmeat and Arby's.  It happens sometimes.

Here's to the start of another week. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thank you

A very heartfelt hug and thank you to everyone who took the time to comment to my last post and to those who have kept my family in their thoughts.

The viewing, mass and cemetery service are done.  I held myself together by staring at the ceiling until shots were fired during the military service at the cemetery; then I lost it.

The same priest, same funeral home, has cared for three of my loved ones in the last two years.  They've done an excellent job.

I don't have any photos of him tending cattle, fishing or pulling weeds. Or that time when he took me out fishing and I, as a child, caught my limit of trout before the adults and demanded everyone else go home becuase I WAS DONE FISHING.

 Isn't that the way with all of us?  We only photograph the fancy stuff.  Not who we really are.

Here is this; my grandparents on their wedding day; December 29, 1952.  My grandmother was a stunner and still is.  He was from Pennsylvania and she is still a Southern gal from Alabama. 

My grandparents and my mother.

Day is done, gone the sun,
 From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
 All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light, dims the sight,
 And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
 From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, for our days,
 'Neath the sun, 'neath the stars, neath the sky;
 As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

While the light fades from sight,
 And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
 To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

On loss, grief and hope

It's been a shit of of a time lately.  I am just going to lay it all out there.

My mother died two years ago this April.  She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer too late and although she fought harder than we will ever understand for another four years with us it was not to be.  Her death was cruel and prolonged and unforgivable.   She died when I was six months pregnant with my son, a baby she never got to feel kick, a grandson she never got to meet. I wish for her help and guidance every day. I wish for my mother. Wish is not the proper word. I suffer for want of it.

I feel our loss harder this year than last. I am better understanding fully every day what I have lost, what my son lost, what my father lost in losing his mate.

I had another miscarriage last month, a week after my birthday.

And then my grandpa died on New Year's Eve.  He was 90 years old.  Laid down in his own bed and didn't wake up again.  Grandpa was one of the great heroes in my life.  I could not have possibly loved him more and he knew that.  He was among other things a farmer and an outdoorsman and took me along with him everywhere when I was little. He was one of the people in my life that shone like the sun.  I can barely talk about this.

He left behind his wife of 64 years and a large family.  My grandmother has advanced dementia and must go to a nursing home for her own safety.  The farm where I spent my childhood will be sold. The barn and fields I played in gone.  The porch where my grandmother and I would shell peas and the kitchen where we baked bread, gone.  The high lonely ridge my father and I hunt on each year which overlooks a creek, gone. These things are necessary and unavoidable and horrible.

I joke that I come from stoic people.  My people do not air their laundry.  I am normally private on this blog.  Possibly I will feel embarrassed by this post.  Probably later I will take it down.

I am sharing this because I know I am not the only person out there who is dealing with loss this holiday season. I am probably misremembering the details but I am reminded of a story  about a woman who pleads to Buddha to bring a child back who she has lost.  He replies "if you bring me just a single mustard seed from a house that has known no suffering I will restore your child".  She is elated by the promise but as she goes from door to door begging for salvation at each one finds she a family that has lost someone precious.

Most people you meet in your day have a burden.   You learn to shoulder it as best you can; to lean into it and pull it alongside you. It's lighter some days and heavier others. But it's always there.

There is no room for death in our culture.  No room for grief.  It embarrasses people and makes them uncomfortable.

To be certain, I have very much in my life to be thankful for.

The very least we can do is to be a bit kinder to one another.   To treasure what we have while we have it.

And hope this year is a better one.