Monday, May 30, 2011

Food, Stuffs

i'm not sure i've mentioned this before. but i probably should, as it is a very important aspect of this TUFsperiment.  I. Love. Food.  i mean, i love it!  i'm not even picky....i've been happy for large portions of my life eating cheap crappy food with relish and abandon.  since i quit smoking (august 17, 2010!), i've even noticed that i've started enjoying peppers and chiles, which is a new and surprising development.  used to be that was the only group of foods i pretty much disliked across the board.  and now that is no longer the case.  WHO AM I???

i think it's worth mentioning here that i have struggled with my love for food vs. desire to fit socially acceptable thin-ness standards my whole life, and that i even delayed quitting smoking for fear i would eat tons more and gain weight.  i have learned the following things about quitting smoking:

1) it is hard, and i never want to do it again.
2) i have not gained weight as a result of quitting smoking.
3) i have been more inclined to exercise as a result of quitting smoking.
4) food is EVEN MORE DELICIOUS, and i find i eat less of it because i can taste more of it.

anyway, since a lot of TUF is about food consumption, and we've been getting more of our food from the farmer's market, i thought i would show off some of the dishes we've concocted lately!  and some gratuitous chicken footage, of course.

the picture above is a medly of zucchini, onions and mushrooms from the farmer's market, stirfried/braised in a bit of butter and white wine, with two cloves of garlic smashed over all.  it accompanied a very small leg of grass-fed lamb, which i rubbed with olive oil, tarragon, sea salt and paprika, and then rotisseried.

that's what it looked like all finished, with rice pilaf and my requisite summer dinner beverage of cheap white wine. love that farmer's market lamb and vegetables!

the evening before, we had sauteed scallops and rainbow trout, with chard and organic fingerling potatoes.  chard and green garlic are in abundance at the market right now, and they are deLISH.

dan pressed both the scallops and the trout in seasoned bread crumbs, and sauteed them quickly while the chard simmered away with the green garlic.  the potatoes got roasted with a bit of salt, whole garlic cloves,  and olive oil in the oven.  of course, it turned out to be way too much food, but completely delicious!
after dinner, i went out to give some of our scraps to the lovely chickens. i caught this intimate pearl moment to share with the world:

my chicken check-in was so inspiring that i came back in and made cookies.  admittedly, i used one regular (free-range, organic) grocery store egg in addition to the two remaining silkie eggs. i also tried out a new kind of unbleached, less-processed flour that is supposed to replace regular bleached all-purpose flour cup for cup.  i think it makes the cookies taste that much more TUF!

at any rate, it's been a productive food couple of days around here.  and just wait until i have more time on my hands here in a few days....gardens, pies, chicks, bread, cheese! (and yes, more exercise.)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Totally Urban Farmer Benchmark Assessment

it's been two weeks since pearl and ninja came to live in our chicken habitat (fancy sounding!), and we collected the 6th egg this morning.  yesterday, dan and i created our first backyard chicken-base brunch...home made biscuits topped with delicate silkie eggs.  it was a perfectly delicious repast.  i have cookie/sharing plans for the next few eggs, but this time we needed to fully taste the first 'fruits' of our TUF experiment.  and those are some good egg fruits!  um, fruit eggs? fruition eggs? anyway. they are lovely.

and it is lovely to try something out and have it work, and continue making plans and having ideas and looking forward to other developments and delights in the near future.  this is a good time to do a TUF progress assessment! to see if we've reached some benchmarks! hurray!

TUF Benchmark 1: More Conscientious Food Consumership
we have been going to the farmer's market on a monthly to bimonthly basis, and have been getting all non-seafood meat from there, as well as a solid supply of produce.  the produce obviously runs out faster than the meat, for storage and perishibility reasons--we do still get many fresh and (especially) frozen vegetables from the big box grocery store, but not as many.  the future garden will help to reduce our reliance upon big box even more.

seafood still comes from the big box, but we have been enjoying delicious, ethically raised lamb, bison, pork and chicken from the farmer's market.  we have definitely noticed a hike in the amount we pay for food on a monthly basis, but i am glad we have the resources to make that choice.  i am willing to pay more for food that is a) real food b) better for me c) better for the planet, and i hope that i am contributing to a change in the greater social consciousness that will result in more sustainable food production systems.

BUT, enough with the preaching!   i should mention that our dogs have benefitted from our consumption choices lately...we switched from a mainstream (cheap) dog food to a premium, all-natural/organic (EXPENSIVE) kind.  not surprisingly, they totally love it.  and, admittedly, their poop is less stinky.  but, i gotta ask, when are they going to get jobs?
TUF Benchmark 2: Conscientious General Consumption

i had mentioned in an earlier post about the mosquito issue here in central texas at this time of year, and i can report that it has gotten worse.  i was out in the yard at around 6:30pm the other day, and the mosquitos, who have grown the size of ponies, were so thick around my legs and the dogs that i could clap randomly in the air around us and smash several.  at one point i even felt a pony-size needle bite me THROUGH my pants.  GROSS.  so bug repellent is definitely a necessity.  i had been using OFF with great abandon, but hating the DEET poison stench of it, until i found this on a recent Home Depot run:
it works pretty well, and feels/smells a lot nicer than the OFF.  being honest, i'll say it doesn't work AS well as the super duper DEET poison.  but, even though i might get one or two bites, at least i don't feel like i have to instantly leap into the shower as soon as i come in from the yard.  and just one or two is way less than i would've had otherwise!  damn texas summer pony mosquitoes!

i have also started buying Seventh Generation household cleaning products--thus far, dryer sheets, dish soap, and dishwasher liquid.  i would love to hear about the household cleaning choices of others who are attempting to be more conscious consumers.  one challenge i would like to overcome: a helpless dependence on paper towels.  i will work on that!  but i have been very pleased with the Seventh Generation products, especially the dryer sheets.  when you're used to the superscented white huggy-bear cloth kind, the perforated brown paper  is a bit off-putting.  but it works just as well--clothes and sheets are soft and fluffy, there's no cloying scent, and you can compost or recycle the used sheets.  i'm a convert!

TUF Benchmark 3: Chicken Keeping
i am so pleased as to how my dream of chickens is coming to eggition! recent chicken lessons:
--they didn't like peach yogurt.  they LOVE strawberry banana yogurt.
--they love apples, but not lettuce or cabbage that much.
--ninja can go up and down the ramp on her own.
--pearl can't, or would prefer not to hassle with it.
--they don't use the nesting box. yet.
--their eggs are ever so slightly different, but we're not entirely sure who lays what. yet.
--i am approximating 3 silkie eggs = 2 regular eggs. but will need to experiment.
 the next chicken development will be acquiring a couple of chicks, probably in 2 weekends.  i. can't. wait.

TUF Benchmark 4: Life, Time, and Gardening
i am pleased to report that i recently locked in a job as a 7th grade science teacher at a school even more nearby than my current one! that means we can continue attempting TUFness with two full-time jobs.  i am determined that we can be reasonably prolific gardeners, conscientious consumers and menagerie managers even with the time and resource constraints of 'normal' life.  it does, of course, help that teaching jobs automatically come with a significant amount of vacation time...all the better for TUFing it up!  it will be verrrry interesting to see what happens with TUF once human reproduction has occured around here....i have been following the stories of some dear friends and contemporaries who have just begun their lives as parents, and WHOO that is a whole different deal, isn't it?  but never fear, gentle reader: it shall all be set down here, as it happens.  (in theory).

and i will end here with a glimpse of what happens to farmer's market produce in our kitchen!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Oh My Geez It's Working!

so!  today, pearl gave us Our First Egg!
michelle had predicted that it would take the ladies a week to get used to their new digs and start laying again, and she was accurate to the day.  (unlike some recent, inaccurate predictions! i bet pearl wouldn't have laid if the rapture had happened; too stressful).

so the egg is smaller than the jumbo eggs i'm used to buying at the grocery store, but these are also not the jumbo chickens.  they are perfectly sized eggs for perfectly sized silkies!

my dear friend emilie suggested a LONG time ago that she was going to make cookies with the first eggs her chicken girls gave her, and i think that's the best idea ever.  so, i'm going to flagrantly steal it, and i think i will make cookies to share once we get a few more ninja/pearl eggs.
in other TUF news, we have built a beautiful garden box on the sunniest-for-longest side of the house!  after it gets reinforced, filled in, and finished out, we'll have time to make a fall garden.

so now it's on.  TUF chickens: check! TUF eggs: happening! TUF garden: happening!  and summer fast approacheth....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pearl and Ninja

the chickens have arrived! los pollos estan aqui! les poulets sont arrivees!
they are Silkie chickens, which means that they are a) smaller than normal chickens b) their feathers are without barbs, which means i) they can't fly and ii) they look AWESOME!

pearl and ninja (figured out which is which?) came to us from our friend michelle, who needed to rehome her chickies before a big move.  they have been incredibly well-cared for, and i really hope they will be as happy with us as i know they've been with michelle!  she is a wonderful chicken-having mentor, and a fount of information.

pearl and ninja were fresh from baths when they came over, and as soon as we put them down in the run, they instantly began scratching and kicking dirt all over each other!  which is perfect chicken behavior, of course, and we were glad to see they were quickly confortable enough to become dirty birds.

here are the first moments that pearl and ninja spent in the run.  you can also hear me earnestly absorbing information about their laying habits.  every other day!

we've had them since sunday, and we've discovered several things about them so far:
1) they love apples!
2) they love grubs!
3) their poops are bigger than one might expect...
4) ninja is a risk-taker
5) pearl is a pillow queen
6) they like yogurt, although peach yogurt is not their favorite.

they seem to like the coop...we are using hay as bedding and have inserted a tree branch as a roosting option.  in these pictures we hadn't gotten the hay yet...

We are thinking of redesigning the floor/ramp, because it seems that the ladies are having a hard time navigating the steepish grade into and out of the coop.  they are handily hopping down at this point, but need lots of assistance going up!  but, it hasn't even been a week, and i gather chickens are fairly coachable.
anyway, it's really validating to watch projects happen and continue progressing, and i am thrilled to have our first two chickens.  they are pretty adorable, and we're getting good at chicken catching!

stay tuned for the beginnings of the TUF garden....and, dare i say it...CHICKS?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Onward Through the Fog!

Life, the Universe, and Everything have all kept me from posting for a bit, but life is good and i'm excited about developments lately.   the coop and run are finished save for a couple latches, roosting poles, and bedding/feeders/chickens.  as for the latter, a friend from work who sadly must give up her darling silkies due to a move has decided that we should be the proud adoptive parents!  those fine fowl will probably come to roost on sunday after the weekend's family events.  we are looking forward to meeting Pearl and Ninja, the white and black silkie hens.  and then......maybe chicks?  am i that nutzo? probably......

anyway, here are some pictures of the latest developments.

 here is how our yard looks right now, with the coop in the northeastern corner. not exactly panoramic, but you get the idea...

here is the window we cut in the back (north) side and covered with chicken wire for more ventilation (and a view of the golf course!) and there's the west side of the coop with our people gate.  we lined the fence in the coop with chicken wire as well, to keep out predators and keep in exploratory chickens!
 here we are trying out being chickens in the coop.  oh, and a gratuitous picture of me with the circular saw.  yes, i did actually use it.  i am getting less afraid of power tools.  i have a great mentor!

this is how the coop/run corner looked just this morning.  also here is the collection of beer bottles we've started on the porch as a result of our backyard exploits.  I am pleased to report we finally got some rain yesterday, a big rain in fact, which we desperately needed.  this cloud below is from a few weeks ago, but it's a beautiful thunderhead. i put it here in hopes we get some more rain soon!