Monthly Archives: April 2011

New Digs

This week has been a rough one. I had good intentions to write my Sunday Supper post. After all, I made an amazingly delicious kale salad from Heidi’s new cookbook on Sunday and I really wanted to tell you about it. But I’m exhausted and just can’t get my act together. I’ll come back to it, I promise. It is too good to not share.

For now though, I hope you’ll except a little chicken update. My little ones are officially eight weeks old today, which means they should be fairly feathered out and ready to face the big, outside world and the coldest April on record! Sorry, ladies!

I got the latest addition to the coop all lined with hardware cloth, added bedding and installed a hatch door, so it was ready for the girls this morning. The goal is to have the little ones enclosed in the extension, while the older ladies peck around in the adjacent, existing run. I’m hoping the old hens warm up to the little ones, but I have to say, I’m still worried about Lucy. I don’t think she’s going to make it easy for them.

The chickies spent all day outside today and experienced their first torrential downpour. I think they enjoyed themselves though in their new digs. It’s not much bigger than the bathtub they were living in, but it’s a lot more interesting. I brought them in for the night, but am planning on sticking them in the hen house to roost on Friday night with the other hens. I decided to wait for the weekend so I could be on standby in case of any chicken ruckus. I’m hoping that what I hear is true – the hens will wake up and think the other birds have always been part of their flock. But, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

My Small Steps Toward Sustainability

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now and the inspiration has come from many places. I saw the movie, No Impact Man. I read books about sustainable living and articles like this one about families trying to live with less. And then there was this post I found by one of my favorite bloggers, Ashley English, on Design Sponge where she talked about the small measures, also the title of her blog, she takes to live a more sustainable lifestyle. I related to her list and realized that I do much of the same things to conserve and consume less.

I have to be honest though, I haven’t always been like this. The way that I am living my life today is a work in progress that’s been happening over the past few years. It started with food, being more aware of what food I was putting in my body. But turns out, when I started slowing down and paying attention to the food I was eating, I started to pay attention to other choices I was making. I didn’t mean to – it just happened. It was about food to begin with and then it started to be about life.

It was subtle. It happened as I started washing out and reusing Ziploc bags and “disposable” containers. I looked at my dish rack one morning to see a gallon size Ziploc bag, inside out and upside down hanging up to dry, and had a flashback of my childhood. I remember being in my grandparents’ garage and seeing washed Styrofoam take out containers piled on top of their chest freezer, which was always packed to the gills with their garden’s bounty. When they’d try and save something that the rest of the family would have thrown away, we’d say, “You’re going to save that?” Inconspicuously we’d judge and think, what are they going to do with that? They had been through the depression. They looked at their resources a little bit differently then us kids that grew up wanting for not. At the time, I was ignorant and had no idea how wise they were. I would have never guessed that a decade later I’d be doing the same thing.

I’ve realized that just like eating without thinking about what you’re really putting into your body, we sometimes make choices to consume things without really thinking about what we’re doing. Plastic baggies are seen as materials to be used and thrown away, a flexible container that’s really convenient, but that will take thousands of years to decompose.

It didn’t stop with the plastic baggies though. I switched to e-billing. I started attacking the countless pieces of junk mail I received that always just went straight into the recycling bin. I’d call whatever 800 number I could find on the catalog or mailing and ask them to remove me from their mailing list. I waited on hold and got annoyed with automated phone menus, but was smugly satisfied when I started coming home to an empty mail box.

I stopped buying and using paper towels, except to pat down an occasional pan of bacon or to oil my seasoned cast iron pans. Where I absentmindedly used to go through rolls and rolls of paper towels each year, I now go through one. It turns out a package of reusable rags that can be thrown into the washer work like a charm where paper towels used to do the job.

I saved a shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand soap, and dish soap container and started buying those things in bulk at the  Green Lake PCC, my local food co-op.

I made it my New Year’s resolution to always bring my reusable cup to the coffee shop. If I could remember to use my reusable grocery bags, which I’ve been using religiously, then I could train myself to always bring my cup. And I’m not being facetious when I say “train.” I spent many months driving around with a sticky note on my dashboard that said, “Bring your bags!”

My latest effort has been to rid myself of my sticky note dependence. Sticky notes are handy tools, especially when you’re in the classroom – they mark pages in books, give messages to students, remind me of all the pressing things I need to do! It wasn’t until they started trickling their way into my home that I began to take notice. They’re convenient, for sure, but they’re not as indispensable as I’ve always thought. I started saving receipts  and used the back of those to write my little notes and shopping lists that I sometimes need to jot down. PCC (I swear I don’t work for them) gave me this idea when I noticed that their “green” checkout machines printed receipts using both sides. Unfortunately, not all stores are that savvy, so I decided to put them to use. A little spot in my desk drawer that once held a stack of stickies now holds receipts and scraps of paper that can be put to another use.

I feel hesitant as I write this, worrying that I might come off sounding self-righteous, like I have things all figured out.  I am certainly not perfect though and am not living a completely waste-free lifestyle. But I’m trying. This post is just a reflection of the sustainable lifestyle I’ve created for myself and of the person I’ve become. Life sometimes feels like it’s moving at warped speed, but I’m slowing down, getting creative, and paying attention to the things I’ve consumed out of habit for years.  Everyday I’m more aware of the simple quotidian choices I make and the impact they have on the world and it feels pretty good.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday on A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa. Happy Earth Day, y’all!

Blending of the Brood

It’s hard to believe, but the chicks will eight weeks old next week, which means they’ll be ready to move outside. And that’s a good thing because they’re getting restless and stinky in the bathtub.

In order to accommodate the new additions to my flock, I’ve been hard at work building an extension for the run. And yes, as you can see from the picture, I built it in the living room. That’s just how I roll.

Inside, you don’t have to worry about inclement weather and can paint wherever you’re ready. It’s quite lovely, actually!

Plus, this isn’t a super large addition. The base is four feet long by two feet wide and the entire structure is just three feet high – easy to build inside and carry outside.

This coop project was a major accomplishment for me because I am not a carpenter by any means. I was pretty much just along for the ride when my coop was built, so it felt really good to be able to figure this out on my own.

It turns out, you don’t actually have to own a chop saw to make this happen – the guys at the lumber store will make all the cuts for you if you ask nicely. Of course, I have had to use a hand saw a few times, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

A nice paint job to match the coop and Beans inspects my work. All clear.

1/2 inch hardware cloth on all four sides. I’m going to dig down in the dirt run area where I’m putting this extension and will put hardware cloth down to prevent sneaky burrowers.

Here I am, attaching the white PVC corrugated roofing material onto the extension’s roof. The roof is attached with a hinge, but I don’t know why. Three feet tall is way to tall to be accessible from the roof. I’ll be accessing the extension from the new hatch door I’m installing in one of the panels on the run.

And here it is where it will soon be attached to the coop’s existing run. You’d never know it was an afterthought.

All I need to do now is finish building the hatch door I’m installing so that the chickens can wander back and forth from the extension into the existing run. For now, that screened hatch will stay closed while the new chicks live inside. That way, their food will be separated, since the new girls should eat starter for their first 16 weeks (not the calcium-rich layer feed the older girls get), and the chicks and chickens will be able to co-exist close to each other while they get used to the new arrangement.

Here I am with my bucket of chickens as I introduced the new girls to the outside world for the first time this weekend.

At first, they were a little stunned.

And so were the girls. I hate to anthropomorphize the chickens, but I felt like I could hear their thinking, like being on a middle school campus, watching the cool clique check out the new girls.

Slowly, but surely, they came over for a closer look.

I had the chicks in a portable chicken tractor so they could meet each other in a safe, restricted environment.

Left to their own devices, older chickens will brutally peck newbie chickens, so you have to introduce them slowly. There is most definitely such thing as a pecking order.

Even with a net barrier and my supervision, Lucy, the top of the pecking order, puffed up her feathers and gave both chicks a good peck to the face. I’m going to have to watch that one.

When everyone else had lost interest in the newbies, Penny, the lowest on the totem pole, came back to check them out. Maybe she’ll help make them part of the pack.

Despite a few initiatory pecks, the chicks got new digs and their first taste of sunshine and worms. I think they’re going to be alright.

Sunday Supper: Ode to cauliflower

The date: Sunday, April 17, 2011 – 64 days until the first day of summer

The menu: Cauliflower cake, sauteed cauliflower greens, homemade toast, and Theo’s coconut curry chocolate

The inspiration: Smitten Kitchen (I can hardly wait for her cookbook!)

Ok, only a few weeks ago, I snatched up the first little cauliflower I spotted at the farmers’ market this spring. Remember the aloo gobi I made with it? I was dying to have it again, but there was no cauliflower to be had. Well, folks, it’s back at the farmers’ market! I think it’s safe to say it’s officially brassica season! Hooray!

Now, in my garden, my cauliflower plants still look like this, so I’m not making any of these cauliflower dishes with my own quite yet. All in due time.

What I do have coming out of my garden is eggs, so what better way to use them then in a delicious cauliflower cake, a recipe that uses 8 eggs! If I didn’t have a surplus of eggs and had to buy the dozen eggs it pretty much takes to make this recipe, I probably would have skipped it and made something else, but I’m so glad I didn’t. I wanted something different than my typical quiche or scrambled egg concoctions. And I got it! This savory cake looks like corn bread and almost tastes like it, without the corn flavor of course. It’s very much like a dense cake rather than an eggy pie.

I think it’s safe to say my efforts to give up dairy are going south, and fast! This cake doesn’t have any milk or cream, but it does have cheese. I just didn’t feel like omitting that delicious flavor. Kathryn gave me Ashley English’s book on Homemade Dairy and I really couldn’t be more excited to make my own cheese and butter. Don’t be surprised if you start to see a lot more adventures in dairy. I guess I’ll have to get these allergies under control another way. I’ve heard nettles are good for that. But I digress.

I originally thought I’d use pecorino in this recipe, which I still think I’ll try sometime. I love, love, love pecorino and think the flavor would be delicious here. What I went with this time though is a cheese from a local dairy, which I found at the farmers’ market, Port Madison Goat Farm and Dairy on Bainbridge Island. I went with a goat cheese variety called Tomme.

I also sauteed cauliflower greens for the first time and man, are they delicious! And all this time I’ve been giving those to the chickens! If you’re lucky enough to find a cauliflower with its leaves still on, peel them off, cut them into ribbons, and cook them as you would kale or collards. I heated a little olive oil in a skillet and put some cumin seeds in the pan to sizzle before I added the cauliflower greens. I cooked the greens, covered, turning occasionally to prevent them from over-browning. This Indian chef who was being interviewed on NPR recently, made an off-the-cuff remark about food not being worth eating unless there were cumin seeds sizzling in the pan before hand. That’s a pretty bold statement, but I have to admit I’m starting to agree.

Cauliflower Cake
Adapted from this recipe from Smitten Kitchen

I didn’t have red onion, so I just used the white, sweet onion I had and used a few rings to make a decorative design on top. I also didn’t have parchment paper so I just buttered the heck out of the pan and it worked just fine. Originally, I thought I didn’t have sesame seeds and considered using golden flax seeds for the “crust” instead. I might try that next time just for kicks!

1 medium cauliflower
1 large onion, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
10 medium or 8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
About 1 1/4 cup grated cheese (I used all of a 3.5 oz. wedge of cheese – the original recipe I followed called for 2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese or about 1 generous cup of grated Romano cheese)
Salt and black pepper
Butter, for greasing pan
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F degrees. Break cauliflower into medium florets. Place the florets in a pot with a teaspoon of salt, cover them with water and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until quite soft. Strain and let drip in the colander for a few minutes so they dry and cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the batter. Halve your onion and cut a few thin rings off the end of one side; set them aside. Coarsely chop the remainder of your onion. Heat all of your olive oil in a saucepan and saute the chopped onion and rosemary together until soft, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Whisk eggs and olive oil and onion mixture together. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, turmeric, cheese, 1 teaspoon salt and according to Deb, many, many grinds of black pepper together. Add to egg mixture, whisking to remove lumps. Fold in cauliflower gently, so most pieces remain intact.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan with parchment paper (on butter like crazy – see the note above). Butter the sides generously. Put the sesame seeds in the pan and toss them around so that they stick to the sides. Pour in the cauliflower batter, arrange the reserved onion rings on top and bake cake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Before you serve the cake, be sure to run a knife around the pan. Enjoy!

This was also posted on the blog hop at Hella Delcious and Pennywise Platter.