Chickens in da house

Chickens are funny. Funny ha ha.

Don’t they look regal, with their combs and honey-colored eyes? But in reality they are just silly little birds, quietly chatty, with odd household habits and a seeming willingness to dig a hole clear to China if it means getting a fresh bug or worm.

We’ve enjoyed getting to know our little chickies. We “adopted” them, from a woman in our neighborhood who had fifteen (!!!) in her backyard, needing to unload them before an imminent move. We connected via phone, and on a weekend she was out of town, Tim took the kids over and grabbed four. The kids named them that day:

1. Z-Horn
One of our two Plymouth Bard Rock chickens. Named Z-Horn because its feathers look like a zebra, and its comb is more horn-like than its twin. Or so my kids say — I still can’t tell the two chickens apart.

2. Z-Za-Zebra
Suffice it to say that this one was named by our 3-year old. She originally named her “Z-Zebra,” following the lead of her brother’s naming of Z-Horn. We tried to get her to reconsider, considering the fact that stuttering out the name “Z-Zebra” is awkward and confusing. But she stood her ground, and almost to punish our suggestion that her choice was anything but ideal, she retro-actively added an additional syllable — so “Z-Zebra” became “Z-Za-Zebra.” And you might as well add an extra syllable of laughter in there, because none of us can say it without chuckling.

Oh, and in case you think that Z-Horn and Z-Za-Zebra look suspiciously like the same chicken, they could be. I took countless photos of those birds, and when I got them downloaded couldn’t tell them apart. So, who knows. I’m calling them both Z-Horn anyway, here’s hoping they don’t suffer from identity crisis.

3. Fire
Fire is, in my opinion, the prettiest. But we have no idea what breed she is. Any ideas, those of you familiar with chickens?

4. Bullseye
Again, no idea on breed. Bullseye got her name because she was the first one the kids found scratching in the coop, and they thought she looked like a bull. Again, I plead confusion, because every time my kids refer to “Fire” this is the bird I picture. Because, you know, she’s bright gold. Like fire. Duh.

Taking care of these little creatures has been surprisingly, pleasantly easy. Most of the time they stay in their coop/run (details on these to follow in a future post) — but on slow mornings and weekends we close our backyard gate and let them out into the yard to eat grass and bugs. They dig up everything — which matters not to us, since the drought has left our grass brown, our yard full of leaves already fallen from two river birch trees in distress, our garden a bust. Call me cruel, but one of my favorite things is to sit outside and drink my coffee, watching them run in terror when a squirrel scuttles down a tree. Turns out, uselessly-terrified chickens are hilarious, especially first thing in the morning.

And, of course, the eggs. We’re getting an average of 3 a day, which according to many chicken folks is amazing in this heat. Their main diet is feed, but we’re generous with kitchen scraps — and between those and the grass/bugs, their yolks are the biggest, yellowest yolks I’ve ever seen.

Many of you have asked about the investment required for chickens — whether or not they save money on eggs. I’ll try to cover that in the next post, all about the house that Tim built.

 

Chicken scratches

It’s been one of those weeks. Between the unbelievable heat wave and drought we’re having in Indiana (and I know we’re not alone), kids (ahem… and a Mom) who are at the end of their summertime rope, and the unexpected chaos that life throws at you sometimes, I’m ready to announce that the month of July can stick it.

Except there have been some bright spots of intense, broad-spectrum UVA sunshine. A couple of fun moments in the past days:

WE GOT CHICKENS!

I plan to write much more about this, and include all the back-story about Tim building our coop, and acquiring the chickens, and their appropriately bizarre names, and the fact that Tim thinks they’re dumb (as if he expected otherwise). But the best part by far is the fact that we’re already getting eggs — the pic above was our very first one, before we had even touched it. Isn’t it beautiful? I couldn’t believe how big and perfect it was. Not a spot on it. Like a pristine little gift from who knows which chicken.

I’m eating eggs everyday, from my backyard! This brings me much joy.

I’ve also gotten to spend a few hours at a new bakery in town, called Amelia’s. I’m working on my next story for NUVO, and am beside myself with excitement over this one. For our three years in Indianapolis, we’ve never had a good artisanal bakery — but Amelia’s is changing this. It’s a commercial bakery, so they’ll mainly be supplying local restaurants — but you’ll be able to buy their naturally-yeasted breads through their next-door restaurant, Bluebeard, as well as several other local markets in town. If you’re local, look for the story in next week’s issue (edited: whoops, looks like it won’t run until October).

Meantime, we’ll just be here waiting for a seemingly endless summer to break, dumping buckets full of ice into the chicken coop, continuing to be surprised by the fact that chickens really will eat anything, counting my lucky stars that we have air-conditioning. Less than a week, right?

 

How I live grain-free

There’s a recurring conversation I’ve been having for almost a year now. It goes something like this:

Me: Oh, thanks for offering. I’ll have to pass on that lovely cookie/cake/sandwich, because I’m on this diet where I don’t eat any grains.

Normal person: Oh, you mean like gluten-free?

Me: Well, yes — but a step further. I don’t eat any grains at all, which means I can’t eat most “gluten-free” foods. In fact, I don’t even eat rice.

Normal person: NO GRAINS AT ALL? Oh em gee, what do you eat? No pasta, no bread, no RICE? I wouldn’t last a day on that diet.

And, you know, I get it. It is unorthodox, for sure — and I was totally one of those people who said I could never go gluten-free, much less grain-free. But, here I am. With the exception of a cheat bite here and there (and my now-allowed single piece of sprouted-grain Ezekiel bread each day), I’ve been grain-free and starchy-vegetable-free for almost 9 months. How do I do it? And more specifically, how do I do it when the rest of my family still eats many of the things I don’t?

Well, there are a few tricks up the hungry, resourceful sleeve of the grain-averse. Here are a few of my go-to replacements for things that were once our staples:

  1. Squashes: great replacement for pasta
    The beloved squash, both winter and summer varieties, has been my flavor vehicle for countless meals over the past year. One of our favorite winter-time meals is a Classic Italian Meat Spaghetti Sauce. When I make a batch, I cook a pot full of pasta for my family, and roast a spaghetti squash for myself. The sauce tastes just as good on squash as it does on pasta (a good douse of olive oil and salt is in order).  In summer months, zucchini serves the same purpose. One of my favorite ways to eat it is by steaming zucchini ribbons (recipe below) — last week I had the ribbons topped with pesto, chicken, and fresh cherry tomatoes for a light and filling dinner (but olive oil and good parmesan are also elegant toppings).
  2. Cauliflower: a good substitute for rice or potatoes
    Cauliflower is another non-starchy vegetable that can mimic a classic. A shepherd’s pie is legal for my diet if I use puréed cauliflower in place of the mashed potatoes (with butter and salt, my husband couldn’t even tell the difference). For dishes that call for rice (like our beloved Coconut-Lime Fish Curry or Red Lentil Curry) I mash steamed cauliflower with a fork until it’s a similar consistency as rice.
  3. Greens: replace almost anything
    I’ve discovered that you can go a long way with simple “meal salads.” I’ve long relied on grain salads as lunchtime workhorses — so these days I just throw everything on top of a big pile of lettuce greens instead. Nuts, seeds, fermented vegetables, cubed chicken, avocado, boiled eggs — this is a king salad that will keep you full until dinner. Greens are also the solution for taco night — my family reaches for taco shells, and I fill my bowl with greens.
  4. Grain-Free Crackers: keep a stash on-hand!
    I’ve been known to sneak a baggie of my Grain-Free Crackers into a dinner party or book club. I don’t want to miss out on that cheese plate or dip, and a cracker certainly helps. I also love these for a quick lunch of smoked sardines or egg salad — the crackers give the exact crunchy vehicle necessary in dippy situations.

Believe it or not, I’ve grown so accustomed to these replacements, it will honestly be hard to go back when I wean off my diet. If you currently live grain-or-starch-free, what have I missed? Are there other nourishing, belly-filling foods in your arsenal?

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Indy Groundwork Conference

Ever heard of the Weston Price Foundation? I’ve mentioned it here, mainly in that infamous post where I take out my soaking-and-fermenting frustrations on one Sally Fallon, the unofficial (or official?) guru of the current national organization.

The short of it: the Weston Price Foundation is an organization dedicated to education and practical application when it comes to incorporating a “traditional diet” into the lives of people worldwide.

So, what’s this “traditional diet?” you might wonder. Well, the best way to think about it is not how our grandparents ate, but likely how our great-great-grandparents ate. Or better yet, our ancestors of a thousand years ago.

The traditional diet incorporates methods of whole food preparation that were the norm for thousands of years in cultures on every corner of the globe. It turns out all of those practices passed down through generations were more than just convenient, they inherently made foods more nutrient-dense and digestible. Lots of soaking of grains, fermenting of everything, and eating animal fats and raw dairy. Cream and fat, topped with butter. It’s like Paula Deen without her need for Novo Nordisk. Because all this food is actually good for you, when the source is of quality.

I incorporate lots of traditional food practices in my cooking — things like my soaked muesli, granola, and bread, along with more recent obsessions with fermentation, didn’t come about accidentally. I’m not a fundamentalist by any stretch — but I believe much of the science behind the methods, and will likely incorporate more practices when I ween off my wacky diet (and hey! there’s a session on that!).

The good news is that there’s going to be a regional conference here in Indianapolis, in September. I am super-excited about this — some of the topics included in the lineup:

  • The Benefits of Animal Foods (Chris Masterjohn, PhD)
  • The Woes of GMO’s (Don Huber, PhD)
  • Food Freedom: Raw Milk in Indiana (a panel of farmers and state representatives)
  • Dangers of Statin Drugs (Stephanie Seneff, PhD)
  • Flouride: The Inside & Outside Story (Dr. Michael Grossweiler, DDS)
  • The GAPS Diet (Dr. Catherine Rupp, MD)

And there will be food! And demos, of fermentation and sourdough!

If you’ve ever been interested in learning more about Weston Price and/or a traditional diet, or if you’re just interested in health topics in general, this will be a great day of learning. The conference will be held Saturday, September 15, from 8:30-5:30, in downtown Indianapolis at the Harrison Center for the Arts. I’ll be there, notebook in-hand, fretting over which sessions to attend (still haven’t figured out how to be in two places at once, I guess that’s why they invented podcasts?).

The early-bird ticket price is $55 — but hurry, you must register* by August 1st for this price (afterwards it is $60-$65, with special pricing available for students and seniors). If you’d like more details on the conference and available sessions, read all about it at indygroundwork.com. If you have more questions, shoot a message my way — I’ll do what I can to get an answer!

* Affiliate links. If you register through these, you are willingly contributing to my stash of canning jars.

 

 

Zucchini-corn fritters (gluten-free)

I like petite zucchini. There’s just something about the scale of a giant summer squash that seems, I don’t know, wrong. I know it’s not wrong, that this is just some silly subconscious preconceived notion about what should be the limits of squash growth, something probably covered by Freud in one of his texts. But reasoning with myself on this does no good. I will fish out the little guys from the bin at the farmer’s market, loving them for their convenient circumference and polite volume of seeds.

But of course, I also won’t turn down a big specimen, not when offered one from a friend’s garden.

Which is what happened a few weeks ago — my in-laws came through town, and I was handed a large zucchini, fresh from their vegetable patch. I brought it home with gratitude, and within a few hours had it shredded down to the perfect amount for making up a batch of zucchini fritters. I had leftover grilled corn cobs in the fridge to use up, with the challenge of making this batch grain-free. The skillet was heating up as I was stripping the corn of its kernels.

I ended up using the fritters as a base for dinner — one that involved sautéed kale and an over-easy egg on top. But several inspirational recipes included dips of sour cream cut with a little lime juice and spiked with chopped chives, or creme fraiche (easy to make at home). The sweetness of the corn (with a smoky component if you use grilled) perked up the texture and flavor of my usual standby fritter. My kids rejected them outright, so that left me with about 10 fritters all to myself over the next day or two — which I had no problem consuming, they were that good.

Good, and able to clear my conscience of squash discrimination.

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For this recipe, it can help your knuckles if you have a food processor — this one is my favorite. You’ll also do well to have a good pre-seasoned cast-iron pan.

 

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:4]

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This post was linked up to the Seasonal Recipe Roundup: Zucchini at GNOWFGLINS.

 

 

Ferment Friday, no. 2: Dill Half-Sours

Ok, I promise. The next post I do will not be fermented in any way, shape, or form.

Cross my heart and hope to die.

But you guys. I made these pickles last week, and they rocked my world. The thing that’s significant about that? I’ve never been a big pickle-eater — and maybe my rocky history with pickles has to do with the fact that I only ever had vinegar pickles from a jar that began its life on a grocery store shelf, rather than from a deli on the lower east side of New York City. Because that’s apparently what these taste like.

It’s no secret that I love dill — I’ve put it in just about everything short of ice cream (wheels currently turning subconsciously). So I use it in its two strongest forms — dried seed and fresh seed head — in these pickles. They’re called half-sours because of the lower-strength brine compared to a full-sour pickle. I want sour, but not the kind of sour that makes your entire face pucker up.

{Just after packing into the jar}

 

And the rest of the stuff added to my jar? It’s mostly to ensure a crunchy pickle — and all at the suggestions found under pickle-making in that ultimate tome of home-fermenting, Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation. The tea leaves add tannins, which help the pickle hold its crunch (the same effect can be achieved by using oak or grape leaves) — but they don’t flavor the brine at all. A few carrot slices are also there to support crunch, and the garlic is purely for flavor.

{Pickles are done}

 

Many pickle recipes have you cut off the blossom ends of the pickles, as residue left behind can thwart fermentation. But Katz recommends simply scraping off any residue, and that’s what I did with success — I just prefer the look of a whole pickle. The soaking step at the beginning is also said to encourage crunch (can you tell I have a crunch fetish?) — I admittedly haven’t compared soaking to non-soaking, but feel free to omit that step if you’re feeling rebellious (and let me know how it goes).

A crunchy, dilly, sour pickle. I can predict a supply that will not keep up with my demand.

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:3]

Linked up to the Seasonal Recipe Roundup: Cucumbers at GNOWFGLINS.

Crunchy Dill Half-Sours on Punk Domestics

Old-fashioned Blueberry-Basil Preserves

I love using descriptors like “old-fashioned.” They are completely undefinable (from the time of yore?), and conjure images of everything on the shelves at your local Cracker Barrel.

(In case you’re wondering, other adjectives falling into this category include old-timey, prairie-style, country — oftentimes spelled with a “k” — and grandma’s.)

But I’m coming up empty on finding another name for these preserves. Honey-sweetened, commercial-pectin-free, and lacto-fermented. Seems like the way our great-great-grandmothers likely had to make jam, yes? On the prairie or in the country, no doubt.

My motivations for making them this way should come as no surprise: I’m still not eating sugar, which leaves most jam recipes out of reach — and I’m totally into fermenting things these days. Give me a jar of just about anything, and I’ll stir a little whey into it, let it sit on the counter for a day, and let those good lactic acid bugs multiply (granted, the honey in this recipe probably halts that growth a bit, but they do still grow, according to what I’ve read in Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation — ahem, many thanks to Suzanne for the weekend book loaner! It’s now on my to-acquire list!).

Oh how I heart this jam. The high salt content helps with fermentation but also lends a delightful surprise flavor component to what we’ve come to expect from jam (read: candy-sweet). Simmering the berries with honey helps bring out their natural pectin — so once chilled, the jam really does jelly up (though some liquid does remain). I’ve recently been allowed one slice of Ezekial bread each day on my diet, and don’t think every one of those precious slices hasn’t included this jam, since the day it was ready.

Old-fashioned, somewhat near a prairie. I think I’ve found my kountry urban calling.

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Blueberry-Basil Preserves (lacto-fermented) on Punk Domestics