Monday, July 19, 2010

Looking Through the Ladle

I was just about done with a blog post about a night of cooking fresh from the garden when I accidentally hit delete and it swept away the entire post with no way to recover the text. So, to console myself, I'm posting a photo that makes me laugh instead. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Farm-Fresh Eggs

No longer will "farm-fresh" be just the preferred phrase of commercial producers to entice shoppers to buy their eggs. As of last week, "farm-fresh" became a reality on our farm.

While the grocery store aisles abound in marketing what Michael Pollan calls "supermarket pastoral," we have the real deal. While they are rather successfully convincing the public that they're out mucking around in the coop just like we are every day and caring for the chickens as if they're pets, we really are.

On the cartons, they make claims like "100-percent vegetarian," which makes me laugh because now that I'm raising chickens myself, I positively know that these birds do not by nature eat soybeans and corn. I suppose it's a step up from feeding chickens chickens, but the industry is feeding us marketing with their pictures of fake farms and health claims on the label. My chickens eat bugs and grass. They love it. Somehow those two chicken delicacies turn into yummy, nutritious eggs with golden centers darker than any store-bought variety.

After five long months of anticipation, a few of our pullets have started laying. It is such a delight to look inside the nesting boxes and find a golden egg sitting there! Currently, there are only one or two eggs each day, but the ladies are still young and as they mature their production will become more consistent and their egg size will increase.

Our first product testing was one of my favorite meals: breakfast for dinner. Mike started with butter and rosemary in the pan then wiped it up with sourdough bread and toasted it. We added the bacon made earlier that morning just to warm it.

Then we cracked open these beauties.

We cut some slices of avocado and had one fantastic dinner -- especially knowing that we were eating was truly farm fresh. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reduce (your need for things), Reuse (by giving them to us), Recycle (for a different purpose)

For some reason, when you own property, people want to give you things -- especially cats and dogs who need new homes. Even though we joke about being the Cat Ranch, we haven't had any openings available in awhile. Five and a half is quite enough, thank you. But other unwanted items have befallen us that have been immensely helpful in getting us going on our little venture, and we are extremely grateful to not have to spend the cash and to do our part in reusing items that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

(Oddly enough, there is a definitive theme of receiving from the parents of coworkers...)

Example 1: This past spring, the mother of a former colleague of Michael's was trying to sell her house and needed to get rid of some fencing to help de-clutter the space. Coincidentally enough, we needed fencing for our chickens. So we headed over one rainy Sunday and loaded up the truck with wire, fence posts and a rain barrel. Cha-ching!

Example 2: Straw isn't that expensive, but we've never had to buy it. The parents of a colleague of mine dropped off four bales last fall that we've used to suppress weeds in the vegetable garden. This spring, some neighbors who were moving were clearing out outbuildings and loaded us up with four more. They also handed over more fencing and some chicken feeders.

Example 3: Yesterday, we stopped by the former mother-in-law of a former colleague who was clearing out her attic and bestowed us with 14 boxes of canning jars, a hot water bath and pressure cooker. She was so excited to give them away to people who would actually use them and continue the tradition she had carried on for many years. They did such a great job of caring for their belongings that the original instructions were included in the original boxes! 

Examples 4, 5 and 6: Plants are another area where we're glad to accept donations. The asparagus is four-year-old roots from a friend, moonbeam and daylillies from another friend, and the irises and lamb's ear divided from a former coworker. 

Examples 7-?: Our career paths have also been beneficial to this endeavor. Mike scored leftover metal from a downtown garage project his company designed, while I've brought home numerous pots, gloves, seeds, knives and organic garden aids, as well as nearly every piece of cardboard that comes into the office (for the rows in the vegetable garden). And, of course, there's the famous Scotty I picked up at the Flower, Lawn & Garden Show that we'll fix up for family vacation or sleeper on the Back 4.

Thanks to everyone for getting organized and deciding you no longer need or want certain things. If you've got something else, let us know. Just don't try to give us anything that meows or barks! 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Imminence and Inevitability

I'm usually a live-and-let-live kind of person, but when it comes to garden pests, I'm a search-and-destroy killer. And being organic, I'm not going to leave the dirty work up to any chemicals. No, when I flipped over a leaf to one of my cabbages and noticed these lime green caterpillars crawling all over, I grabbed a jar, threw down my gloves and spent two hours poring over the leaves. (Well, first I consulted a book to make sure they weren't good guys. They weren't.) The result? This creepy Jar of Death. Did I feel bad dousing them in rubbing alcohol? Yes. Was it enough to stop me? Nope. The real evil would have been for me to leave them writhing in the jar with the lid on in the summer heat.

Fortunately, it looks like the cabbage will be saved now that the loopers are gone. I gave another look-see tonight and only sentenced a handful more to a death sentence. Maybe handpicking really is the way to go... 

or maybe my nasturtiums interplanted among the Brassicas finally attracted some beneficial insects...

or maybe the chickens are getting some extra protein in their diet. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Happy Camper

We need another project like a hole in the head, but we couldn't resist the allure of a rusted-out camper. At least we didn't pay anything for it.

The 1960s Serro Scotty Sportsman arrived in our driveway surreptitiously this afternoon after I begged for it at the Flower, Lawn & Garden Show back in February. (See post here.) Back then, I was in love and Mike was questioning my judgment. Today, he had the wide-eyed look that recognizes possibility and a grin that said: "We can do this."

Inside, it boasts only the most luxurious amenities: seating/bed with a pull-out option, dining room table, fridge, hole for grill and electricity (if we hook it up), and it's appropriately complemented by a gray striped carpet on all surfaces and turquoise cabinets. Sure, its decaying wood, busted glass, musty odor and mouse houses aren't for everyone, but it's OURS.

We'll take it apart piece by piece and restore it to be an unrecognizablely sweet Scotty. We're thinking light wood paneling, modern light fixtures and maybe we'll keep those painted cabinets.

We envision it as a cabin at the back of the property or near the garage as a party trailer, but possibly it could be road-ready as the Gekas family travel wagon. Whatever it will be, it will be a fine addition to DesignFarm.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Heee's Baaack!

Leave it to a kitten to find something sharp and dangerous to play with. Scout found our buddy the stowaway crawdad yesterday in the field. I actually saw them from the kitchen window and recognized the little fellow immediately. After a few minutes, Scout became disinterested and began to walk toward me...right over the top of the raised claws. He grabbed onto her leg, she freaked and flicked him up in the air, and he went flying into the knee-deep grass. 

What would he have done without human intervention?

I lent him a stick to grab onto and pulled him out.

I guess it was too thick for his claw because he got stuck.

When I finally got him free, I flailed and failed to pick him up by the tail to put him back in the water because I guess I'm not a true farm girl yet. I had to use cardboard.

Oh, well. I'll have another chance some other day, I'm sure. His home is just beyond the back door! 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Green in green

Mint took a joyride this week in the Prius. I exited the car feeling as fresh as a toothpaste commercial.

More than a burger or brat

Tonight Mike had some buddies over to our place before heading to a concert. He told me they were going to grill beforehand. Most people understand that to mean hamburgers and hot dogs and maybe even some chicken if you're really going to get crazy. Sides usually include chips and something mayonnaise-based. Not him. He cut and marinated pork for souvlaki and grilled it alongside a special steak for one of the guys. Then he put together a roasted pepper and chick pea salad and also a strawberry salad -- which he made his own dressing for! And, of course, there's no cheap beer here. Only Boulevard could match the status of this menu. Who did I marry? If this architecture gig doesn't work out, he's got plenty of potential for designing great dishes in the kitchen!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The wind beneath their wings

I felt bad that we've been slow to get the chicken run installed so that the ladies could have access to the great outdoors. I made a temporary chicken tractor last weekend, but within five minutes I knew I'd never do it again. At least not that way. I had pounded in four stakes in the lawn and encircled them with chicken wire. Actually, at first I was a bit lazy and thought the chicks would be big enough to be contained by a wire cage that we had left over from a pallet of stone pavers. They were too big, but they sure did try hard and got thisclose to escaping. So I used chicken wire, which is, imagine that, great for keeping in chickens.

One by one, I caught them inside the coop and carried them to this pen. They clucked nervously, especially that first one. Her instincts must have told her this was the end. By the time I had captured and moved 12 hens, I was exhausted and sat there with them to enjoy this moment as they enjoyed their first introduction to grass and sunlight. In the background is their brooder propped up against their new old home.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Slightly better than "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

Why does a chicken coop have only two doors? Because if it had four, it would be a chicken sedan!

Lucky for us, our property came fully equipped with a base model chicken coop. Its structural safety is slightly questionable at 80+/- years old, but it will suffice until we get the ladies some more permanent digs. We had to clean it out, wash down the walls with bleach, replace some missing window panes, install lights and outlets, and mend some giant holes in the floorboards where animals had broken through.

That was about a month ago already. You can tell by how clean and fluffy the bedding is compared to now.

We penned the ladies in a third of the available space to keep them cozy and buy us time while we finished organizing and wiring the coop (which is still left to be done...). They looked highly confounded about their more open surroundings for the first 10 minutes then immediately starting sparring for pecking order. Give them an inch, they'll trample all over each other...

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's getting a little crowded in here

We had about eight trays of plants and seeds in various stages of development on the sunroom counter since about the middle of February. Most I started from seed, but some I bought from a nursery. We designed the sunroom to have this raised counter specifically for raising plants, but I can already tell we're going to need a greenhouse someday...


In the last two weekends, we've finally had some great weather and transplanted some starts outdoors in their beds: onion sets and cauliflower last weekend.

This weekend: out went the peanuts, brussels sprouts and cabbages. I dug up and divided the asparagus, and sowed lettuce, spinach, carrots, kale, beets and radishes. 

Peas were popping up, the only seeds to have survived the last month.

Mike singlehandedly dug a strawberry patch on Saturday. It used to take both of us an entire day to trench just one veggie bed, and now he does three in one day. Guess it'll be no problem when I ask for an expansion...gonna have to happen anyway as I still have lots of food to go in but nowhere to grow it!

We laid out row covers to protect our new crops from these guys...electric fence is under research.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Phil Collins and I mowed the lawn the other day

And that's my way of announcing that there is a second writer adding to the blog now, Andrea's husband, me, michael. We've been transitioning to my recent return from New Orleans where I was working on design, adding to my waistline, and rediscovering my love for music. You should start to see a few more posts now that we're back up and running. And by running, I mean a new strawberry patch, chickens moved to the coop, and some baking and breaking of bread.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring, or Winter (?), Cleaning

Soooo, instead of sowing some seeds in the garden this weekend (you know, because of that fluffy white stuff unexpectedly smothering it) we decided to sow the seeds of change in the kitchen. After we spent much time and deliberation designing it to work best for us, we mucked it up with the detritus of a newlywed's registry. Sure, we registered for everything and got nice stemware rather than ugly tea towels, but six years ago, we hadn't become the simple-living fanatics we are today.  

Three years later, we realize how dysfunctional our space actually is; not the cabinets themselves but all the junk that's in them. Getting back to basics, we exploded the cabinets, removing all the items inside, wiping them down, cleaning the shelves and scrutinizing individual items, asking ourselves: Do we need/use/like this? Do we need three nearly empty bottles of honey? Two jars of cumin? Seven wooden spoons? Six wine openers? Chargers we've used once? Three sets of plates -- 12 each? 

Spices were checked for potency and combined and/or tossed. (The trash can smells great, but Mike's been on a sneezing rampage!) The juicer, fondue pot (still in its box), panini maker and three-tiered steamer have all been identified unnecessary and marked for departure. We also have martini glasses, margarita glasses, two sets of daily glassware and Tiffany water glasses that rarely get used; we'll be paring down to four in the cabinets and put the rest in storage. Two people -- even ones who entertain as often as we do -- do not need all this stuff. It's clutter. What we've come to realize is that cooks need some basic items and the rest is just a way for appliance manufacturers to make money. Some appliances can make your life easier, and others are just sitting around taking up space...  Besides, when has anyone known us to take the easy way out around here? Doing things the hard way is how you build muscle and character. Below are our suggestions for true ease of use and simplicity.

Clutter-buster No. 1: The steam basket vs. the timed steamer
Rather than bust out six different pieces (not to mention sanding out the stains the appliance's little rubber feet leave on our wood countertops), just drop a flower-like contraption into a pot and cover with a lid. We bought one by OXO that has a top with a slit for a fork so you don't have to lift it with your fingers.

Clutter-buster No. 2: The French press vs. the coffee maker
Only one of us drinks coffee in this house, so we don't need a large coffee maker. We bought a small, 4-cup electric coffee maker when we first moved in together, but the dingy white plastic will soon be replaced with the classic pairing of a kettle of hot water and glass jar with plunger. We have a 10-glass French press now and will probably get a single-serving size also for on-the-go use. 

Clutter-buster No. 3: The glass juicer vs. the electric juicer
This is the perfect example of an appliance that supposedly saves you some elbow grease but just causes more strain on your well-being than it does on the actual fruit at hand. Ours constantly gets clogged and we've  gone back to the old-fashioned kind and never looked back. 

Still deciding: The Dutch oven vs. the crock pot
This one's a toss up, really. We wouldn't want to leave our electric oven on all day simmering a pot of rice and beans unattended, but a crock pot plugged into the wall could do the job. It stays for now, pending our integration of this Southern tradition into our weekly menu.

Jury's also still out on: The microwave
Call us crazy but we think we can plan our dethawing ahead of time to avoid having to suck the life out of our meter to run our 20-year-old yellowing eyesore. Better keep it around in case we get lazy, though. Currently, it's been banished to the adjoining sunroom to test how often we actually need it. 

Would consider booting: The toaster
We've discovered the unmatched pleasure of pan-toasted bread, which is supremely moist, unlike when you use an appliance to toast first then butter. Of course, when you're in a hurry, a toaster and some spray butter will do.   

Keeping: The food processor for bread crumbs, dips, smoothies and numerous other things; the stand mixer, great for our new baking hobby; the griddle because it's so much faster to cook the entire package of bacon and smell up your house only once a week; and the ice cream maker because Cuisinart makes it so easy to make my favorite dessert using only three ingredients.

Voila! Two days later, it's like we have a whole new kitchen!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Operation Coop-eration

With the chicks growing like weeds, I have been scrambling to get them a bigger home. While the galvanized metal tub was great for all of five days, it was only meant as a temporary holding place. The cheapest option is to make a brooder out of cardboard boxes that you can adjust as they grow, but with it set up in my swamp of a basement, I didn't think that was a good idea. I searched everywhere for those rigid plastic pools from my childhood that would be both wide and deep enough -- and waterproof -- but, alas, those don't arrive in stores until Easter, if at all. (I guess that's what I get for not going along with cliches and ordering 'winter chicks' instead of 'spring chicks.') Apparently, the child's pool industry is full of only deflatable plastic these days, not so good against incessantly pecking beaks. I could also have started researching water garden tubs, but honestly, I got tired...and did nothing instead. The ladies don't seem to mind; they cuddle up like cats.

So, I've focused on a bigger and more permanent solution. 

Fortunately, we have a coop that came with the property. Unfortunately, years of decay have rendered it practically useless except as a storage shed for garden tools and a safe haven for our groundhog, Phil, and other critters that burrow under the foundation and climb up through the floor boards. Windows are broken, lead paint is flaking, locks are rusting by the second...but one can only start at the beginning.

In a moment (er, entire weekend) of clarity, I began organizing and didn't stop for two days. Always cognizant of my responsibility to be environmentally friendly, I learned I had saved every cardboard box and plastic plant container I had ever come across. (I have been using cardboard to kill grass, such as between the rows in my vegetable garden, and I highly recommend this method, yet did I need enough to cover the entirety of the county?) I loaded them up in the truck to be dropped off at the recycling center.

The plastic containers I had saved for revulsion of adding them to a landfill along with delusions of growing my own plants in them someday. The director of the local extension office told me to look on the bottom of the containers for recycle numbers and add them to our curbside pickup. I called my county's waste company to verify, not wanting to contaminate the recycling stream if it didn't participate, and the lady who answered said that was a negative. If I get ambitious again this spring, I may sort and try to return them to their place of purchase. Otherwise, they may just rest outside, inadvertently growing plants -- weeds from seeds that fall out of the sky.