Monday, February 21, 2011

Brussel Sprout Recipe That Will Convert The Most Hardened Brussel Sprout Detractor

I'm a relatively recent brussel sprout convert. Our brussel sprouts are nowhere near harvest-ready yet, but I'm practicing so my recipe will be perfected by the time they arrive on the scene.

Try this easy citrusy delicious recipe served up with brown rice:

1 lb brussel sprouts, halved (quartered if large)
1 T butter
1 t olive oil
1 1/2 T capers
2 clove garlic, minced
1 big squeeze of lemon juice
1 t coarsely ground sea salt
(carrots were just hanging around and found themselves suddenly thrown in the mix for color)

Melt butter in a pan with olive oil, add garlic and saute on medium high heat for 1 minute. Add brussel sprouts and capers and cook about 5 minutes or until brussel sprouts are wilted but not mushy. Finish off with lemon juice and sea salt to taste.

Don't  overcook brussel sprouts as you'll diminish their nutritional value. Brussel sprouts are outrageously healthy and recommended for pregnant women due to their high folic acid content. I'm not pregnant, but I crave them as if I were!
A sante!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Humboldt Hens: Legalizing Urban Chickens

Humboldt Hens: Legalizing Urban Chickens

Legalizing Urban Chickens

Here's a link to a great research paper from DePaul University students in a Green Urban Policy class who interview staff from 20 cities after they legalized backyard chickens. Hopefully it will give more weight to those fighting to keep their chickens!

Holiday Chicken Sickness And Another Batch of Baby Chicks

One of our faithful layers is sick. She's listless and puffed up, definitely not acting the part of a healthy forager like the rest of her kin. This is not new to her; she fell ill on New Year's weekend just a month and a half ago. Her symptoms then seemed more severe. She wouldn't stop drinking water, and was again listless and puffed up. A call to the local veterinarian's office yielded the holiday on-call veterinarian who know less than I about poultry. They proffered the phone number of University of California Davis that has a poultry veterinarian. Really? On a holiday weekend? Sure enough they answered the phone and after I described the worsening symptoms the young voice on the other end informed me that it was serious and I needed to bring her right in. Really? 5 hours drive for a sick young layer? I don't think so. When I declined the generous offer and pressed for at least a little over-the-counter advice, the actual vet call me back a bit later. During the high anxiety wait, I combed the internet (oh yes I know one normally "surfs" the internet, but "combs" it for chicken's apropos as well as anatomically correct). Some obscure blogs and poultry forums gave me a few ideas and upon sticking a nose to her open beak and smelling her sourly fermented breath, she was most assuredly the victim of an impacted crop. Apple cider vinegar, force-fed yogurt, and a crop massage while she was upended (suspended from Cosmo Bean's lap upside-down) seemed to help and by the third day she was back with the pack, indiscernible from her sister leghorns.

But it seems her 'crop failure' has returned, again on a holiday weekend. Perhaps she's allergic to holidays. More likely she ingested something rancid during the moving of the compost, or her crop is weakened from her new year's weekend incident and now is more susceptible to becoming easily bound. We do have quite a lot of high grass that could also be the cause. Whatever the case,  we hope she makes a quick and full recovery. These episodes have fostered much more knowledge about a chicken's anatomy whereas prior to the advent of the year 2011 I thought a crop was something that sprung verdantly en masse from the earth or a little stick to goad on a horse. Add one more definition: The storage pouch for food on a chicken before it enters the stomach. Interestingly enough the crop evolved in chickens and other birds that are easy prey to other animals so that they can quickly forage in open spaces and fill it up then get to safety then digest it's food later (this according to the University of Kentucky Agricultural Extension).

Meanwhile more chicken antics ensue. Yesterday we got our second batch of little poults. Now our miniature flock is 8 and consists of: 2 Giant White Cochins, 2 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Delawares, and 2 Bantam Silkies (one white, one black). It's chaos in that little tub right now. The 4 chicks we adopted last weekend are behemoths compared to the newbies. They've sprouted tail and wing feathers and tramp all over the littler ones.  The teeny black silkie elicits "oohs" and "aahs" from every visitor. We've been on pasty vent cleaning duty relatively often since we've gotten them. The stress of being cargoed half way across the nation probably is to blame. In fact our cochins are two of only a handful that lived through the shipping experience, the rest succumbing to asphyxiation. The person at the poultry farm neglected to cut air vents in the box, a deadly mistake. I pity Tom from A&L Feed who had the distinct displeasure of opening that package at the Post Office. We're still hoping to get some Americaunas and Marans to round out the egg color.

Our dogs are an interesting dichotomy when it comes to chickens. Cosmo is the perennial hunter and is as obsessed with the chicks as he is with the chickens. Riley on the other hand has assumed the role of chicken sitter, mother hen, or shepherd, you can decide what to call him. He lays by those babies day and night and growls and barks Cosmo right out of the room. I've never seen Cosmo stand down to Riley until now. Evidently he is serious about his self-appointed stewardship. He's even gone so far as to chase Cosmo completely out of the house.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Know of Nothing More Adorable...

...than baby chicks! I had a little disappointment upon arrival at the feed store to find that there were no Americaunas, no Cochins, no Speckled Sussex as originally expected. They had breeds we have already (Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock) and after reading Robert Plamadon's website ( I'm down with the idea of getting different breeds in alternate years to help keep track of age without too much consternation (translation: work). But after all the anticipation,  going home empty-handed was not an option. Two Buff Orpingtons it is! Back tomorrow for Giant White Cochins. We were the proverbial kid in the candystore when taken out back to see the partridge blue laced red Wyandottes, a pint-sized version of the ones we have at home. It's hard to refrain from buying the entire lot of them....oh and the baby ducks (see what I mean).

Meanwhile, we are the stereo-typical  "mother hens" over these two little girls, checking chicks every 5 minutes. One was quite lethargic, sleeping, laying there with it's teeny tiny wings spread out like little floats on an outrigger canoe keeping it aloft on a sea of pine shavings. But this evening she's showing signs of life...after an  unauthorized feeding of Straus Family Creamery Blueberry Pomegranate Yogurt, the best yogurt on the entire planet. Probably a no-no and if one she is dead tomorrow, I'll feel good knowing she had a cosmic food experience before passing!

WWMPD? (Translation: What Would Michael Pollan Do?)

Are These Mary's Free Range Chickens?

Or Are These?
I'm curious now, and eating less chicken these days. Reading The Omnivore's Dilemma enlightens in ways that sometimes are inconvenient, like the inconvenience of no longer being able to ignorantly purchase "industrial organic" chicken. My local butcher, The Northcoast Co-op, apparently does not have a source of local free range organic chicken because it only offers industrially grown chickens. Well maybe, but I am suspicious none-the-less.

Last year they swapped out Rocky and Rosie chickens for Mary's because they felt they were better. After reading the chapter in Omnivore's Dilemma entitled "Meet Rosie, The Organic Free-Range Chicken" I have a better understanding. These fowl are raised under similar conditions as conventional chickens, sardined into housing, but offered a small 15 foot swath of grassy land to "free range" on. Knowing how my chooks quickly scratch the living daylights out of their once-grassy pen, it is highly suspicious that 20,000 birds haven't completely degraded the grass within the first hour of having it offered to them. Thing is, they don't use it. They don't get the generous offer of pecking grass, grubs, and other crawlies until they are 5 weeks old and quite settled in their ways. The grass is, as Pollan terms it, "ritual space".

Now my butcher offers Mary's Chickens. Mary's website does a darn good job of giving you that down-home small farm feeling. They provide a sweet video of interviews with the farmers who raise the birds with cute little chicks running around at their feet. But alarms go off in my head when I see them advertising a "vegetarian" diet. Since when are bugs a part of a vegetarian diet? But I want to hear from Michael Pollan if Mary's birds are truly free-range fowl that spend their days feeding on good grass or if most of their time is devoted to being stuffed into housing with way too many others, eating "organic vegetarian" grain. Michael, what say you? Meanwhile, until Pollan weighs in, here's Mary's website for you to make your own decision to eat or not to eat...that is the question:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Giant White Cochins
Excitement is building around here. Tomorrow A&L Feed receives it's first baby chicks. We'll be one of the first beating down the doors to get ours. In their wisdom, they've been building the excitement by advertising for a few weeks now, listing the different breeds on their website, giving chicken lovers like me time to do some research and make a semi-informed, but still emotional decision. Here's what they're offering: Ameraucanas, Speckled Sussex, Sicilian Buttercups, Rhode Island Reds, and Giant White Cochins. I'd love to add a few of each to our flock but I want mostly dual purpose birds and ones that are not flight, sorry Sicilian Buttercups. We think we've decided on a few Ameraucanas for the blue/green eggs they lay, a few Giant White Cochins, a few Rhode Island Reds, and a few Speckled Sussex. Notice how I don't exactly specify number...trying to balance reason and emotion and not overdo it. Somebody hold me back! Plus room needs to be saved for a few chooks that lay the deep chocolate colored eggs, Welsummers or Marans to round out the color spectrum of eggs. Since we haven't raised chickens from babies, our first batch were several weeks old when we got them, this will be a brand new experience. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Dirty Dozen Redux: Egg-o-nomics Takes a Dive

Last night's discovery set us back in terms of the cost associated with raising our own food. Fortunately it was not paired with the emotional setback of losing one of our layers in the prime of her laying life. We can't say we weren't warned however, the harbinger to the event being the observation that one of the leghorns was extremely dirty, particularly under her chest.

Here's what we found in the rarely visited back corner of the garage. There were nearly two dozen eggs that she's been depositing and brooding over. Based on the number of eggs, she's probably been hard at this now for three weeks. What's more,  this discovery came at bedtime for the girls and this leghorn showed no sign of moving from her makeshift nest. We think she's been sleeping here for three weeks with her eggs. This must have become sticky business for her as several of the eggs were cracked, their contents oozing out and painting the entire bunch in a yellowy-brown film. As puffed out as she was, the impossible task of keeping 21 eggs warm must have had its frustrations. She's probably relieved we finally found her cache.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekend Homesteading Projects

Cosmo Bean's project: deck stairs. We no longer have to hop down and jump up to get on the deck from the back yard. Guess I'll have to get back to the gym to get all that leg stretching exercise I'll now be missing. As you can see the chickens were integral in the process, lending moral support at the very least.

My project: constructing a wind barrier for the young apple trees that withered from the strong coastal winds last summer. I used green landscaping cloth, rebar for supports and my new favorite device, zip ties. It'll be interesting to see if the 3/4 inch rebar sways too much in the strong winds we get. We used 10 foot rebar and drove it almost 5 feet into the ground, still it seems it may be a little wobbly in the wind. Wondering why the tree is wearing a white cast? It's a thin spiral of plastic with breathe holes to (hopefully) protect the tree from whatever species of critter has been carving it's name around the base of the spindly trunk.

Check Out This Sunset Article: Chicken Coop, The New Dog House

poster by Joe Wirtheim
Check out this sign of the sustainable times! Hopefully more municipalities will begin allowing backyard chickens as the grassroots movement for local food and sustainable living reaches the tipping point. Some might say we live in dangerous times (like the elected officials in cities that still ban backyard chickens). Click on my title to redirect to Sunset online. And if you are interested in the very cool poster, you can get your own at Wirtheim's Etsy shop:

The Trill of Victory

Sweet Pea has introduced us to an as yet unfamiliar chicken utterance: the egg-layer's trill.  She started doing this when being petted while laying, but we're not sure if it is a coo of contentment or a statement more akin to "Leave me alone, can't you see I'm busy?" Quick explanation for nesting box in the garage...these free rangers had taken to laying in unexplored corners of the garage, so we placed a box with pine shavings to make it easier to find them. Barbara the Barred Rock shares this nest exclusively with Sweet Pea when she can't get into the bedroom to lay on the bed. Take a listen (close your eyes as video quality is poor due to the dimly lit ambiance of the nesting zone. That's Barbara in the background clucking away at Sweet Pea to get on with is so she can use the box).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fun With Eggs In The Kitchen: Oatmeal Current Pecan Cookies

It got too windy to work outside so I'm taking a baking break. This oatmeal cookie recipe I adapted from a couple I found on the intranet, then added a few of my own favorite ingredients. I like to keep the batter on hand for a quick and healthy bedtime snack. Later if you're lucky I'll let you know what I was working on outside!

    1/2 lb. butter (Humboldt Creamery's organic is the best)
    3/4 c. sugar
    1 c. dark brown sugar
    1 t. vanilla
    2 free range organic eggs
    1 1/2 c. white flour
    1 t. sea salt
    1 t. baking powder
    1/2 t. cinnamon
    1/4 t. freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
    3 c. any combo of rolled oats, rye, barley, and wheat (If you can't find these in bulk at your local natural foods store, you can get Bob's Red Mill 5 Grain Rolled Hot Cereal)
    1 c. coarsely chopped toasted pecans (a necessity!)
    1 t. flaxseed
    1 c. currants

In a big bowl beat together the butter and sugars until well blended. Then add eggs and vanilla and blend again. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in another bowl, mix well with your fingers and then blend it into the butter mixture. Finish it off by adding the oat combo, pecans and currants and mix with a wooden spoon (OK you can use your hands for this too but they get really sticky and require licking off when you are finished).

Place generous tablespoon sized dollups on a sprayed baking sheet and bake for approximately 14 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serving these at bedtime with a tall glass of milk ensures sweet dreams.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Organic Free Range

I'm reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma after having put it down some time ago. I was a little bored by the corn fed nation theory as I'd just read a couple of his other books and the theme was repetitious. And in my case, he's preaching to the choir. However, now I'm curious about his take on grass fed, free range and industrial organic food. An organic label says very little about how a plant or animal was actually raised. The term "organic" has nothing to do with the conditions in which an animal is raised, in fact, in order to satisfy the volume required to sell to most food retailers, it has to be raised in mass quantities, thus degrading living conditions and overall quality. Makes me feel good about our little free rangers and funny about the Google ad for Purina poultry feed I see on the right side of my blog.

We'd like to follow the Polyface Farms model of rotating chickens from one area to another on our humble little 3/4 acre, but haven't figured out how to make a portable fence that is big enough to free range 15 chickens without the grass suffering too much and rotation not have to be too frequent. Ah, a pondering for another day...all in good time.

Who Laid That? Egg-citing Stories From The Coop

We closed out the year in December with the biggest egg on record, February begins with the smallest chicken egg I've ever seen. It's about the size of a plump concord grape. These ladies need to know about averaging things out and going for the middle of the road egg.

Lately when we open the coop in the morning there has been the occasional soft egg that appears broken on the floor just below the roosts. Is it so small and soft that it just slips from her warm body in the night? Odd it is.  One of our new old girls is the only one laying and her shells are very soft that we've found them broken in the nest. The other day a couple old gals were pecking and eating its contents. It may soon be time to process the layer as we're concerned that they may get too interested in eating their eggs.

Most days we average from 5 to 7 eggs now, not including the soft shelled one that usually gets broken. There have been several odd days of only 4 eggs which has made me curious and thinking about scouring the yard for a possible new nesting spot. With plenty else to do, the though hasn't manifested to action. Yesterday Pretty girl and several others were clucking about the woodpile and upon closer inspection, two dirty eggs revealed themselves. Moral to the story, when there are four eggs it's time to forage for the missing egg.

Saturday in the midst of chores, shock collar therapy and the like, we left the door to our detached bedroom ajar. Barbara the Barred Rock is always hanging about the entry way lately looking for hand outs. When I entered the bedroom I got quite a surprise, Barbara nestled in all comfy in the covers of the bed. Warm thoughts of "Aww, isn't that cute" turned quickly to panic as I thought through the consequences of having a chicken in my bed... rushing to pluck her out of the bed and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a beautiful tan egg, still very warm to the touch that she was brooding over.

Tonight I got the distinct honor of putting the girls to bed (I'm usually cooking so I miss out on tucking them in). Dora the Explorer was patiently waiting as usual at the gate to be hand-carried to bed. Being the Buff Orpington that she is, she's likely too stout to make the short but steep flight up to the roost by her own steam (although the Wyandottes are bigger and figure it out!). The front roost was full and it was such a precious sight to see the girls all lined up together, a cozy chicken-pile in the coop. It took me several tries to get Dora up on a roost, but she was patient with me and didn't seem to mind my awkward fumblings.