Chicken Love

I would like to start off my blog with this picture.Granddaddy1

My inspiration.

I was going through old PRINT photos (remember those?) over the summer and found this.  On his knee rests a bucket full of eggs and in his hand a partially smoked cigar.  Behind him a large 55 gallon container of feed and an old leaning dog house.  Outside of view the closest thing to a pet dog he’d ever known is dodging the camera.

Hazy mornings he would wait for me to roll out of bed even though it meant putting off his chores.  Upon site of my young, groggy face he would invite me to put my work boots on and grab a bucket as I perked up at the idea of feeding the chickens and gathering eggs with one of my favorite people.  My granddaddy.

Out in the yard (it was barely a yard) there were skittish cats waiting to be fed-of which he was quick to remind me that if I’d just visit more often they’d be more tame.  We walked past the propane tank and the small broken toy tractor on a dirt path to the tall hand-built fence.  During summer the weeds almost reached my head as keeping a tidy yard was the least of his concerns.  He’d open the fence and let me into the majority of his land.  A large dirt patch.  Multiple chicken coops.  Dog houses with beagles he’d trained.  And birds, birds, birds.  My young ears would listen with tightly closed lips to his explaining  what I always heard and never remembered.  That which was bird breeds, the eggs they laid, their temperaments, whether they found a way to roost in trees or in the coop, or if a sly fox had slid in and took one without permission.  There were chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, geese and on and on and on.  Even fighting roosters which he kept separate in sturdy cages for hobby and beauty rather than for fighting.  It was a rhythmic ritual.  With a beat and a pattern.  Never for lessons, but ever for the smell of dust in my nose and the site of chickens scampering to meet us.

With the feeding of the dogs there was firm control for dominance.  Never allowed to eat without a word given for permission. They were considered “dirty creatures,” not to be coddled and let in doors.  But such is the way of raising hunting dogs.  The geese occasionally tried to hiss with teeth bared at my small frame, only to meet the brunt of his steel toed boot.  “Not at my granddaughter,” he’d say.  And I felt safe.

The masses of fowl had long since scooped up all grass and plant life in his yard turned run.  So I tossed buckets of yellow corn while he called “Here chick chick chick!” to alert feeding time.  And then eggs.  Eggs upon eggs upon eggs.  He’d point out all the nesting boxes and  hidden nooks and crannies.  It was my favorite part.  Egg collecting time.

We’d always leave his large rustic house with several dozen eggs-all different colors: Brown, white, specked, and yes, blue and green and pink.

ChickenNow fast forward to twenty years later, a move to Denver and the passage of a law that allows chickens (hens only) in the city of Denver.  With the smell of my granddaddy’s cigar still in my nose, I made a move to get chickens in my own backyard.

The first day of getting new chickens I sat outside, still in my pjs, while my boyfriend moved around the yard doing odds and ends.  I stared at them, simply loving them, for 2, maybe even 3 hours.  All I could feel was how I felt when I was little, prancing around outside with these tiny beasts.  Listening to their noises, watching them duck in and out of the coop.  I was in heaven.

It’s been about a month now since they have taken ownership of the yard.  The first week or two consisted of frequent calls to my now elderly and chickenless granddaddy who is full of valuable life experience with the egg layers.  These days he needs a walker to get around, but his wealth of knowledge is still as deep as when I was seven.  No need for a heat lamp (although many city dwelling chicken owners use them-how ever did chickens survive before electricity?), hand feed them so they know you as the food provider, keep them in the run for a while so they know where they are supposed to roost, give them warm water when it’s cold, clip their wings when you let them out of the coop (meaning the feathers only) and so on.  Having my granddad’s advice and experience has been invaluable and been a great bonding experience for the two of us.  I feel like I get to keep a little bit of our walks with the chickens in my heart as I too call them “chick-a-babies” (a Chicken2name I swear I’d heard him use) and call “Here chick chick chick!” to alert them to feeding time.  

So now I am waking up with the sunrise, filling water bowls and tossing feed on the ground.  I am collecting eggs in the afternoon and shutting the chickens in with the sunset.  I am getting forced into a regular sleep schedule, something I wouldn’t have without chickens awaiting the dawn.  I am learning the values of a steady lifestyle and I am loving it.  And I am thinking of my granddaddy.

Oh, chicken love.

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Cookie: The Flavors of Lemon, Ginger, and Cayenne

I created this cookie out of a need to be rid of massive amounts of lemon peels.  It demonstrates my ability to get sucked into a
Lemon Cookieblack hole of baking and cooking as I first peeled off all the lemon peel (left over from ANOTHER project), created candied lemon peel and as a result lemon simple syrup.  And then what did I do with that? Well, I made Lemon Ginger Cayenne Sugar Cookies.

But don’t worry, I’ve attempted to simplify the following recipe so YOU can enjoy the glory of these cookies (I constantly get positive feedback) without standing in the kitchen all day.

Lemon Ginger Cayenne Sugar Cookies

1 1/2c Water
1c White Sugar
4 Lemons worth of Zest (peel-no white part of the peel)
—Can buy Lemon Zest at the store

3 c All-Purpose FlourLemon Cookie2
1tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2c Butter, softened
1/2c White Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1-2c Powdered Sugar
Dash of Water
2tsp Shredded Fresh Ginger (can substitute for the spice-will lose the kick though)
Cayenne Pepper for topping

Preheat: 375
1) Place Water, (1c) Sugar, and Lemon Zest in a pot.  Boil for 30min-45min.  Let cool.
2) In large boil mix all dry ingredients, Flour, Baking Soda, Baking Powder.  Set aside.
3) In bowl mix butter, (1/2c) Sugar, and Lemon Simple Syrup WITH Zest.  Make sure some water has boiled out.  Should be about 1c worth of syrup.  Mix/cream (won’t really cream that well).  Add Egg and Vanilla Extract.
4) Gently poor dry ingredients and mix into the liquid.  MAY need to add more flour to make it the right consistency.
5) Make into tiny round balls (about 1/2 the size you would make a normal ball of dough) and place on a greased cookie sheet.  If you want them to be nice and pretty and round when they come out you can put the dough into the fridge for 1/2 hours and roll in your hands.  You can of course just try to roll them without this trick 😉
6) Bake for 8 minutes.
7) Let cool.  While cooling mix Powdered sugar, Water, and Ginger.  *I keep ginger in my freezer and take it out and shred it on the fine part of the cheese shredder whenever I have use for it.  Don’t think you could shred unfrozen ginger.* Add only as much water as creates a thick frosting.  YOU DO NOT NEED MUCH.
8) Drizzle on top of cooled cookies.  Sprinkle Cayenne Pepper on top.  Allow frosting to dry.

And there you have it!

A Bagel Adventure

I have been terrible about blogging recently.  To those of you who are (for some reason) faithful readers, I apologize.  Due to a busy schedule my soul has been craving creativity.  Hopefully I’ll get better.

So what daily adventure have I completed recently?

Since I came back from Scotland well fed on homemade food, I’ve been obsessed with baking my own bread.  I believe I could get pretty decent results out of a bread machine, but maybe because I’m a glutton for traditional living I do the whole process myself, sacrificing between 3-4 hours for the whole deal.  But yesterday herald in a new phase of my love of bread.  I made my first batch of homemade bagels.  Hopefully many more to come!

Bagels in the Raw

Bagels in the Raw

Well, they were time consuming, but took less time all and all then a loaf of bread.  But I traded time for attention as they took more kitchen time.  You start out just like bread.  Flour, salt, yeast, a sugar and an oil.  Knead it, let it rise, but after you knock it back down, well, that’s where it gets complicated.

Bagels require boiling.  Yes, that’s right.  BOILING.

You are supposed to cut the dough and shape it, and while doing so allow a large pot of water with one tablespoon of syrup (barley malt syrup, although I used maple syrup) to come to a boil.  I decided the best way to do this was to roll them in balls and punch a hole in the middle… but they were a little lumpy.  Oooooh well.

You have to prepare whatever toppings you would like in a bowl to put the bagel in post-boil.  You drop as many in that fit, boil one minute, then flip and boil a minute on the other side.  Then press into the bowl, remove and place on parchment paper.  All the while, the oven is heating up to a piping 500…

I managed to complete this phase without incident, even though I was wondering where my tongs went the whole time.  A spatula wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered here.  Especially when extracting bagels from the topping bowl.

Once all the bagels are done with their hot tub experience you send them to the sauna at 500 for 7 minutes, switch the shelves, and Bagels Donebake 8 minutes.

And tada!  Piping hot homemade bagels.  These guys ended up being a lot more dense than anything from the store (as any homemade bread item), but so much more delicious and filling.  I also chose to use white whole wheat, a lighter kind of wheat plant then its denser whole wheat cousin and with less gluten then bread flour.  Weeeee have a winner!

I think what I’m so excited about is the sheer diversity here.  Today I plan to buy berries to make a sweeter bagel, as you can see here I made everything bagels.

If you’re interested in replicating this version of bagel, look below.

1c Water, Warm
1tsp Dry Active Yeast
2Tbsp Barley Malt Syrup (I used Maple Syrup)
6-7c Flour (I used White Whole Wheat)
1Tbsp Oil (I used Grapeseed Oil)
1Tbsp Salt
4-5 Cloves Crushed Garlic (optional)
2c Water, Warm

1/2c Sesame Seeds
1/2c Poppy Seeds
1/2c Sunflower Seeds
1/8c Sea Salt

1) Mix 1c Warm Water with 1tsp Dry Active Yeast.  Let sit.  Add 2Tbsp Syrup.  Let stand to become foamy.
2) Portion out Flour in a large bowl.  Add Oil, Salt, and Garlic.  Mix
3) Once yeast water has become foamy, add to flour mixture.  Add 2 more cups of warm water.  Mix.
4) Sprinkle counter with flour, pull dough out of bowl and knead for 12-15 minutes.  When done (when you can pull the dough without it breaking off immediately) place dough in a well oiled boil.  Let rise for 1hr to 1hr and a half.
5) When dough is done rising (when you can stick your finger in it and the print stays), start to boil a large pot of water, and add the remaining 1Tbsp of Syrup.  Preheat oven to 500.
6) While pot is boiling and oven is preheating, knock dough down, stretch into a rectangle and cut into 12 pieces.  roll into balls and punch a hole (OR into “snakes” and connect them into a circle).  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
7) Mix up toppings in a bowl.  Set near pot.
8) When the pot is boiling, bring down to a simmer.  Place 2-3 bagels in the water and set an alarm for a minute.  The bagels will initially sink, and then rise.  Then flip them for another minute.  When done, remove one by one, placing them in the bowl, pressing down, and organizing on the cookie sheets.
9) Bake for 7 minutes.  BE CAREFUL.  Oven is EXTREMELY hot.  Move bottom tray to top and top tray to bottom.  Bake for 8 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove and place on cooling racks.  Again, BE CAREFUL.  I almost got burnt through my hot pad!

Let cool and enjoy 🙂

China’s Dirty, Diverse Food System

There’s nothing like a snowy day to make me what to drink coffee and write a blog post.

My farming travels have been somewhat limited and my recent travels to China were not to visit a farm but to visit my brother, sister-in-law and little niece (yes, they moved to China and had a baby-they are tough people!).   I was only there for a week, but you can’t be in a country without eating, so I guess that gives me some credibility.

China has this funny combination of being a first world with third world characteristics. It’s a rising power in the world but sanitation is poor, the masses live in cramped spaces, and manufacturing is a major part of their economy.  One of the first things my brother told me was to not drink the water.  Do NOT drink the water, he said, only bottled water.  Duly noted.  The second thing he told me was no fresh fruits and vegetables.  It’s a little bit of a mystery to me, and I think him, why exactly there is a risk to eating fresh fruits and vegetables.  The reason was bacteria-I was risking various intestinal diseases-but what I mean is how did the bacteria get there?  We’re not entirely certain, and I think there would have to be a mass investigation of it to find out, but I think the general cause would be a low understanding and application of what is generally considered sanitary.

China is a place of kind, friendly people who have a much smaller personal bubble both physically and socially.  I had expected to need to clutch my purse at all times, but instead I found that I was a bit safer than I would feel even in the States.  And even my little niece didn’t seem to be in much danger with these friendly, curious people (many hadn’t ever seen white people and even fewer had seen a white baby.)  After a long walk at a tourist spot, my sister-in-law and I struggled to get a cab only to have two young Chinese girls flag one down, and without spoken communication (most do not know English) waved us over to get in.  But as friendly as they are, they have less need for personal space because they are used to being packed in as tight as sardines and there are few taboos as a result.  It wasn’t uncommon to need to step around small puddles and bits of stool even within public buildings.  This is because the children wear something called “split pants” where in public they simply need to squat and go.  No diaper needed.  This may not be as big of a deal if it weren’t in such crowded city conditions where there is more of a chance of them polluting the surroundings.  But they are used to dirty conditions.  My brother was even witness to a janitor using the same mop to clean out the hole-in-the-ground toilets on the floor, spreading any kind of fecal matter all over the ground.  But the ground isn’t the only unclean thing.

The air was horrendous.  Everything that you hear about China’s pollution problem is true.  Approximately half the time I was there I could look directly at the sun.  Not due to normal overcast clouds, but because of the smog, which would drift in and out depending on the weather-if it was windy, rainy or the like.  The sun on some days was less brilliant and more tolerable to the eyes than a lamp covered by a shade; simply a distant light-colored disk in the sky.  My brother had an app on his phone giving him the air quality rating for the day.  Quite often it was hazardous or dangerous and it wasn’t uncommon to see people walking around with breathing masks on.  Although I was surprised more people didn’t all things considered.

Everything was crowded, nothing was truly sanitary and even the pets on pet street (self explanatory-a street where you buy pets) were crowded into uncomfortable, small cages.  The friendly, kind people  of China are unfortunately used to crowded, unsanitary conditions.  All things considered, it only makes sense that eating anything uncooked and not in a package might be considered generally unwise.

Even with the lack of sanitation and terrible air pollution you couldn’t complain about the food.  While farms in America have turned into big homogenous business, often producing and offering a small range of fruits, vegetables and meats, farms in China are still very much small time family business.  I did no interviews and research, but I can only assume this lends itself to huge diversity in produce.  When farming isn’t all run and managed by the same company, your chances of diversity go up because people will more than likely produce a wider range of products.  While in America you’d be hard pressed to find types of produce outside of what is generally offered at the grocery store, in China diversity seems a little more prime-and the produce is fairly inexpensive.  On the negative end, China is low on regulating what might get sprayed on food (bean sprouts are carcinogenic)  and also seem to use some old methods of genetically modifying plants by sending the seeds to outer space where they get blasted by radiation and come home with different characteristics.  A quick Google search only turned up old articles, the most recent one from 5 years ago, but according to my brother, the practice hasn’t stopped.  Apparently they monitor the plants to see which have shown improved characteristics and then put them into use.

All in all the experience left me wishing for more small time farmers, but grateful for whatever weak regulations we have for protecting the environment from post-apocalyptic clouds of smog and blatant carcinogenic sprays on bean sprouts.  Sometimes you never know how much better or worse something could be until you see it.  There were both positive and negative take-aways from China’s dirty, diverse food system.  The difference between diversity and monotony, cleanliness and uncleanliness, and bad and worse pollution problems.

On Buying Organic

Organic vs Non Organic? Health concerns, financial concerns, a lack of understanding the food system and the suspicion that maybe “all natural” is all a farce all beat around in our heads. It’s complicated and it makes picking food off the shelf hard.
I’ve had lots of conversations about buying organic with friends, many on already strapped budgets with children. But they are also concerned about feeding their children the very best. We all want the best for our own bodies and those we care about. But the prices loom over our heads as yet another burden to our budget.
There are lots of foodies that would guilt trip us; judge us for NOT buying organic. Most of the people I’ve spoken to shrink back a little bit when discussing food with me. I’ve traveled to other countries to learn more about our food system, I garden, volunteer on a farm, and am a big proponent of farmers markets. Well, I have a secret to tell you.

I shop at Safeway.

Yes. I do.

I think what we all need to realize about the food system is that it’s out of our control. The powers that be, the big companies running our super markets control what we see on the shelves and what we don’t, how much it costs, where it’s from, and what THEY want us to believe about their own personal suppliers. It makes sorting through the mess almost impossible unless you have a lot of background experience and are constantly keeping up on the trends. We all make the best decisions possible given the circumstances, and many foodies would do well to remember that.

But on the upside to this mess, is that you still DO have some control. Your dollar counts and where you put your money DOES impact the food system. Buying directly from farmers puts more money in their hands and removes the super markets ability to control your options. In turn it keeps smaller farms up in business, keeps competition high, and ensures the farmers can make a good product for you to consume. Buying organic from a super market isn’t a bad option either. It creates a market for that much treasured food that we all so badly want to eat. It tells the supermarket: HEY this is important! Keep offering this! And as another option: shopping at a smaller grocer keeps them in business to keep competition in the market up and resists the food dessert problem that seems to be becoming more and more prevalent.

But if this is still too confusing, there are some resources/thoughts that can help:

The Dirty Dozen is an annual list put out by the Environmental Working Group that tells you which kinds of produce typically have the heaviest dosage of pesticides that you absolutely buy organic and which may not be so bad to buy unorganic.

In my own humble opinion I believe buying organic naturally raised animals is best practice as well. After working on farms so close to the animals, I realized what would be going into my body if the animal wasn’t raised naturally-the way it might live were it a wild animal. For example, grass-fed beef tends to be higher in good fats and lower in bad fats. Pasture raised chickens produce eggs also with more omega-3s while farmed salmon and farmed shrimp almost seem like death traps when you actually read about them. All in all its good practice to try to buy all animal and animal products organic, wild (salmon), and as close to how they may live naturally as possible. Just think about what would happen to you if you were cooped up and fed substandard food. You would become unhealthy and the same is true for animals.

But all in all it’s good to remember not to feel guilty for not buying all organic all the time. We are all trapped in a system that is a little bit bigger than us and our options are handed over to us already picked through. Give yourself a little grace but also remember that your dollar does count.

Camel Milk Project to Support 50,000 Somali pastoralists

Camel Milk a source of income in Somalia? I never knew.

ECO-opia

 

As part of the United States President’s Feed the Future Initiative in Ethiopia, the U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), launched the Camel Milk Value Chain Development project in Fafan Village, Somali Region. 

 

Thursday, 25 April 2013  NewBusinessEthiopia.com

The project launched today (April 25, 2013) is expected to improve the production and market competitiveness of camel milk products in the Somali Region to improve incomes and nutrition for up to 50,000 targeted households in the Siti (Shinile) and Fafan (Jijiga) zones.

Speaking at the project launch event, His Excellency Abdifatah Mohamud Hassan, Somali Regional State Vice President, said, “The Camel Milk Value Chain Development project is an innovative project that addresses cultural wealth of the pastoralists and contributes to the Ethiopia Agricultural Growth and Transformation Plan.”

The project, implemented by Aged and Children Pastoralists Association, will…

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I Got a Flat: Rambling Thoughts

I have never been so glad that my father taught me something.IMG_4783

Ok, that’s maybe an exaggeration.

But seriously.

I’ve had my car break down in the middle of the road before and the helplessness is agonizing.  Not to mention I was babysitting so I had three young boys in my car, who I ordered out onto the sidewalk as a stranger helped me push it onto a side road into an empty parking space.  It might have been one thing if I was by myself but making sure those boys were safe while I was also trying to not get rear ended and not hold up traffic was not a fun experience.

I can remember before I moved away from home, whenever my dad would go out and work on my car I would insist on watching in the  background or in getting my hands dirty and helping him.  The man had done work on my car since I started driving and he was such a man that he would wake up early on a Saturday, change my oil, and never say a word.  So I eventually had to start insisting that he tell me when he was going to work on it so I could be a part of the experience.  He also bought me jumper cables, an electric tire pressure gauge, without my knowledge mind you, and placed them in my car for me.  The man knew how to care for a car and what was good to have on hand and made sure to implement that philosophy for me.  But one thing he did teach me very specifically how to do, was to put a spare tire on my car.

144So today when I was taking off to grab coffee with a friend and my car didn’t move the way it should, I knew something was wrong.  I hopped out of my vehicle and confirmed my suspicions:  I had a flat tire.  But never fear!  This girl popped open her trunk, pulled out the spare, the jack, and the tire iron and had the sucker changed in no more than 20 minutes.  Never mind that not a soul stopped to assist, I was on the road in no time and driving to go get my tire patched up.  Sure, it meant that I couldn’t grab coffee with my friend, and I had to postpone another errand I had been planning to get done, but I also didn’t have to call for help, I didn’t have to scramble to find a tire iron that fit and I didn’t have to call a tow truck because I didn’t have a spare.  On top of that when I bought tires recently I paid an extra $60 for insurance so that if I ever got a flat or needed an alignment I didn’t have to pay a thing.  So really, this is just a blip on the radar.  A bump on the road, if you will.

And as I drove to drop my car off I started thinking about how glad I was that A) my father taught me the techniques of changing a tire and that B) they started fixing cars with everything needed to deal with a flat tire.  It was a lot less stressful than when my car decided to quit in the middle of the road with three babes in the car.

And then I started thinking about my grandparents.  They are nearly all in their 90s, but live in good homes, have cars, have good health care, and still give their children and grandchildren (on my dad’s side that’s nearing 40 people) presents at Christmas.  And granted I don’t know what their saving methods were over the years, but what I do know is that I am so grateful that my grandparents are happy, healthy, cared for and that they still have something beautiful to offer the world when so many nearing the end of their days are put into nursing homes and fade away into history.  Their preparedness is not only a gift to me, it’s a gift to everyone they care about.  We still bask in their goodness.

And I think retirement? savings plans? preparedness? is this really that profound?

But I think in light of how it affects those around us, it is kind of profound.

Of course there is never a standard way to insure that you will never end up the person pushing their car over to the side of the road while yelling at the little packages to whom you have been given to care for to get out of harms way, but there are ways to prevent or at least buffer suffering and I am grateful for my father being one of those men and for teaching me to be one of those women.  We can choose to be prepared ourselves so we can keep our loved ones safe, as well as ourselves, and keep ourselves healthy enough to be a positive influence in the world.  Because, let’s be honest, when some of our needs aren’t being met we suffer, and so do those around us.  I guess that was my train of thought today.