Monday, September 30, 2013

Three Things to Remember about Chicken Butt

I've written before about Mrs. Halls "little problem" and the lengths I went to lend a helping hand the last time it occurred.  Today, I noticed that she had several flies doing laps around her, like the Pig Pen character from Charlie Brown, and that her feathers in her nether area were wet and dirty.  Sure enough, when I picked her up for a closer examination, there was the dreaded pink protrusion.  A prolapse.  Gross.  

Not that I know that much about treating a protrusion, since I only had this happen one other time, and the problem was quickly taken care of, but today, I did learn a few things worthy of remembering.  For starters, if I pick up my chicken and realize there is a problem, and then think "I should find something to put her in while I go assemble some gear," I should heed my initial instinct rather than thinking, "nah, I'll just carry her in and grab what I need."  Because, you see, the problem with grabbing the Preparation H that I bought last time this happened, while holding a chicken upside down under my arm, is that apparently I do not store Preparation H where I would assume it's normal to keep a butt medicine - the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.  And because my medicine cabinet is somewhat disorganized (it's a jumbled disaster) it takes dexterity to search through the contents, and it's hard to be dexterous with one hand while doing a football hold on a chicken with the other.  Hmm... maybe I classified it as pet supplies, so it would be in the flea medicine drawer?  A few more minutes of clumsy searching, and the poor chicken starts to slip, and with reasonable fear that she's about to be dropped on her head, tries to flap a little.  

Sorry girl, maybe I put it with the cleaning supplies, because I didn't want any confusion that it was for human use.  More searching, more chicken shifting - I'm getting desperate.  It has to be here somewhere!  Did I overlook it in the medicine cabinet?  Is it with the chicken food, outside?  Back outside and rummaging through the shed only to finally give up.  I never found it.  Mrs. Hall has little dignity, but she does have some, and I'm sure she was completely humiliated by her unflattering position and disrespectful treatment!  Not to mention her butt has been inches from my face for the entire time!  

Preparation H is one of the items that I would prefer to buy as few times as possible, so even worse than embarrassing my chicken, I have to buy more butt medicine.  Poor me, right?  

Why didn't I just set Mrs. Hall down and pick her back up when I found what I needed?  Well, it's easy enough to catch her once, but then she's on to me and keeps a safe distance for a while, so I thought it would be easier to just hold her.  Now I know, stick the chicken in a box and prevent any repeats of that fiasco.  

Secondly, if, once I carry my chicken into the house and decide to use the bathroom sink to clean up her butt, I should remember that this will ultimately result in spending the time I had planned to leisurely prepare an evening meal giving the bathroom a deep cleaning.  Once I had spent some time cleaning her, and was thoroughly grossed out, disinfecting the bathroom and soaking our toothbrushes in peroxide, just in case air born chicken poo particles settled on them, seemed suddenly more important than getting creative with dinner.  I'm not saying this is a bad thing, as it's always nice to take advantage of strong motivation when it comes to house work, but I will remember to factor this in the next time I decide to use the sink instead of taking a bucket of water outside.  

The third thing to remember from this experience is that if I carry my chicken upside down for a while, and then continue to hold her upside down while she gets a washing, a small prolapse will magically retreat without my help.  But unfortunately, since I didn't have the Preparation H to reduce the swelling, I fear that it may be back in the morning.  If so, I will remember today's lessons.  

P.S.  Turns out that Helen is more photogenic that Mrs. Hall, because all the pictures on my phone, which I used here, are of Helen.  I didn't realize I was playing favorites!  

Drinking Frog Spawn and Algae

I've never actually swallowed frog eggs, but now that I've tried kombucha with chia seeds, I'm pretty sure I know what it would be like.  Not bad!  Especially if it's a cherry flavored species.  

A friend of mine recommend that I try the chia kombucha, but I couldn't tell if he was recommending it because he liked it, or if he just wanted to me have the experience of drinking it, so I was a little cautious with the first sip.  It's sort of like trying to drink...well, mucus.  Not in a bad way, but it's slimy like psylium fiber, or okra, and I thought it was sort of fun to try to catch the seeds so I could crunch them with my teeth before they went sliding down my throat.  

I only tried one bottle of kombucha before I started making my own, and I think it was the same brand.  I realize now that my home made kombucha has a much more sour flavor, and is more carbonated that this kind.  My kombucha mother has been neglected the past months and I'm afraid to check on her in case she has died or mutated to form something hideous in the jar.  I'm interested in trying more with chia seeds though, since they are supposed to be super healthy, so maybe this experiment will give me the courage to revive my own.  

I photographed these frog eggs last week, while tramping through a wetland, and I immediately thought of the chia kombucha.  If only I had a straw!  

While I was shopping at the co-op, where I found the chia kombucha, I passed a lady with three small children.  She tossed a small bag in her cart and pointed it out to her kids, "hey guys, look what I got!". All three kids threw up their arms and yelled "Yay!".  So of course I had to see what could get such a glowing recommendation from children, and as soon as they passed I went over to check it out.  Dark chocolate covered hemp seeds.  I never would have imagined that kids, even co-op kids, would get that excited about hemp seeds, but sure enough, these are really good.  The hemp seeds are very crunchy which gives that satisfying crunch of a candy coated m&m, but even better because the chocolate is dark.  I cracked open the chia kombucha and tore into the chocolate hemp seeds while I was still in the parking lot of the store.  A strange snack, I admit, but interesting.  

On my shopping list was spirulina, which is dried algae powder.  I recently read an article about super foods, and was trying to buy as many as I could find.  I brought home nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, cocoa nibs, and spirulina, and mixed us up a glass as soon as I got home.  Brandon was very worried once he got a whiff of the powder, which smells sort of fishy, and the intense blue green color when mixed with water was making him even more worried.  He kept asking "why are we drinking this?" as I stirred.  Because it's a super food, you know, like super man!  It's super nutritious, and super green, and super...uh... just drink it, it's super.   The glass in the photo above has only a teaspoon of the powder.  Like I said, super green.  Fortunately it doesn't taste like much of anything.  That first glass made my heart race and I felt sort of jittery (super powers, maybe?), but I've mixed it in fresh squeezed vegetable juices since, and it hasn't had that effect on me.  

All these super foods much be working, because Brandon nearly finished digging a fifty foot trench for our new water line out at the farm house this weekend.  The trench is two feet deep, and he did it all by hand!   

It wasn't all work though, because family came to visit and we got to picnic and show off our progress.  Believe it or not, but not all of our guests are as excited to walk the entire perimeter of the ten acres with me, through the tall damp weeds and insects as my nephew is, so I'm always glad when he comes for a visit.  

We stopped to examine this giant spider who made a web in the fence line, and compared it to the one that my nephew inadvertently knocked onto his shirt while picking pears earlier.  He was cool as a cucumber while having a spider crawl up his neck, but his mother, who could actually see how big and creepy the spider was, gave the rest of us a good show as she squealed, and pranced, and battled the monster with a paper towel before her son was eaten whole.  My nephew was saved, but I'm pretty sure my sister-in-law, and the spider, will both be having nightmares tonight.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Morning Webs, Evening Lake

I stepped outside this morning to discover these dew covered, jellyfish shaped webs all over the asparagus, and sprinkled throughout the grass and garden.  Dozens of them.  

I've never noticed these before, but I have a hard time believing they just appeared overnight.  I think they must have been here all summer, but weren't obvious until the dew settled on them.  From a distance they look like cotton fluff sprinkled in the branches, but when I looked up close, I could see the intricate web design, that looks like a dense shield above a loosely tied web framework below.  

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the small dark spider resting in the center of the top web.  Through the magic of the Internet, in about five seconds I was able to identify these as "bowl and doily" spiders.  The inverted bowl traps little gnats and other bugs, and protects the small spider from predators above.  The doily on the bottom protects the spider from below, and most had the crunchy looking carcasses of the spider's recent meals.  Just by looking at the number of bug crumbles in each web I can assume these guys are doing their part to make sure the bug population stays under control.  

Talk about natural pest control!  Look at all these tiny insect traps!  Who need pesticides when you can have spider infestations, right?  

The webs built on the chicken wire fence around the spinach bed were especially intricate.  How does a tiny little spider build such elaborate structures, and each spider makes them look basically the same, even though they each have different shaped things to attach to?  It's amazing, truly.  

After a morning of web appreciation, Jamie and I headed for a work project in western Tennessee on the shores of Reelfoot Lake.  There are very few naturally occurring lakes in my part of the world, but Reelfoot is one of the few.  Where as most lakes are man made through impounding rivers, and are deep, Reelfoot was created during an earthquake, when the Mississippi River reversed it's flow, and filled the sunken area created by the shifting earth.  Of course, we humans built a levee and a spillway so we could control the water levels and generally mess with natural processes, but the lake is unique because it is so shallow, and has wetland vegetation, including large cypress trees, growing throughout.  It is a wetland lovers paradise, as well as a fisherman's.  On our way to the project site we stopped at the visitors center to see the rescued bald eagles and owls that are kept in outdoor aviaries.  The little gal in the photo above is a screech owl who has a broken wing.  She's about the size of a grapefruit, and is fully grown.  I hear screech owls all the time when catching bats, and can sometimes see their large eyes in my headlamp, but don't always get to see them in the light of day.  So cute!  

The visitors center also has a reptile room, full of terrariums with snakes, including the copperhead in the photo above.  One of the identifying characteristics of our venomous snakes, such as the copper head or timber rattlesnake, is that they have vertical pupils.  Non venomous snakes have round pupils.  I can't say that I would recommend getting close enough to a wild copperhead to see if it's pupils are vertical, but it's neat to see it from the other side of the glass.  

When we were making plans for this trip, the first thing we had to discuss was if we were going to eat at Boyette's.  If we were, then I needed to be mentally and physically prepared.  I've been making trips to Reelfoot every year for many years now, so I've learned from experience that eating at Boyette's takes mental and physical stamina.  So, in a knowingly futile attempt to counter act the physical punishment we were going to willing subject ourselves to, we drank algae and vegetable juice for breakfast and ate nothing but raw vegetables and other healthy foods for driving snacks and lunch.  By supper time we were more than ready.  I couldn't wait, really.  

This is our "before" photo of our meal.  The thing about this restaurant is that if you order, say, fried catfish and fried chicken (excellent!), not only is it "all you can eat meat" it comes with hushpuppies, sourdough roles, onion rings, potato, coleslaw, and beans.  All of that!  All loaded with grease, and golden brown in color.  The slaw is loaded with sugar.  The beer is served in a can.  It's wonderful, but deadly.  

Our preparation payed off, as you can see in our "after" photo.  If only you could hear the groans.  Over the years I have learned that the trick is to eat everything while it is tongue blistering hot.  The onion rings in particular are the most exquisite things you will ever eat when they are straight out of the fryer, but as soon as they cool off the artery clogging fat they are fried in turns to a very unappetizing waxy substance.  You gotta scarf it, baby!  We laughed so hard when we were flipping back and forth between our before and after pictures that I thought we might be having fried food induced hysteria.  No one should eat that much!  Sigh...I can't wait for next years trip...

The setting is perfect for a near comatose after supper recovery.  

We found some chairs with a view of the lake and watched the sun set.  

We watched a flock of ducks preen their feathers, and saw the egrets settle down for the night in the trees.  By the time the sun went down we were sufficiently recovered to waddle of to our rooms. I really do love this lake.   

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Emotional Blooms

I don't always say nice things about my morning glories.  If plants are sensitive to human emotions at all, I'm pretty sure the morning glories have received some pretty nasty vibes from me.  These vines sprout up in every bed, so I'm constantly weeding them from where they don't belong.  They must only pick up on the joy I get at ripping them apart, though, because they haven't held it against me and are repaying my irritation with some of the most beautiful blooms in my garden right now.  Of course, more blooms means more seeds, which means they are going to be even harder to manage next year, but I'm going to try not to think about that. 

You will have to excuse all the flower pictures lately, but since we have been spending so much time at our little farm house, and making more and more progress, I've become nearly sappy about my plants.  I've been known to roam around the yard mumbling to my flowers and trees and dreading leaving them.  Even if it's still a long while before we move, and even if I take as many of them with me as I can, I'm going to miss my yard.  

Not that everything is exactly the way I wish, but even the plants that I wish I had never planted, like the terrible morning glories, I know personally.  When we bought our house ten years ago, it was just grass with a chain link fence.  Not even nice grass, really.  And because I prefer plants with a story, many of them have been transplanted from friends and family, gifted to me, or salvaged from abandoned gardens or work projects.  

I have tried to incorporate as many native species of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers as I could, which isn't to everyone's liking (they're not weeds!).  And based on the responses of the men in my life who have tried to mow the grass or use the trimmer, I've made lawn maintenance a very difficult job.  Pruning and trimming all the shrubs and perennial food plants, like the blackberries, asparagus, strawberries, pear trees, and herbs, is a very physical job that would only be enjoyable to someone who is really into it.  So, I'm trying to brace myself for when the next person who cares for this yard just cuts down all the weeds wildflowers and trees to make it easier to mow.  That's why I keep taking pictures of everything now, in case it's the last time I see them at this time of year.  sniff.  

The morning glories are seriously out of control!  This corner of the garden normally has semi organized food plants.  It always has it's fair share of weeds too, but this year I've completely surrendered to the morning glory vines.  I was gone so much this summer, that I decided my gardening strategy was to do all maintenance on the things that were already growing before I could plant more things.  No planting unless everything was weeded, watered, and harvested.  I'm glad I didn't over extend myself, but I have no idea what to do about all these vines.  I enjoy the flowers, and the chickens like to eat the blossoms too, so I will wait until they are finished putting on a show, and then tackle them.  

The under appreciated tomato blossom.  Cute, huh?  

Do I dare take morning glory seeds with me to the farm?  What if they completely take over, and I have ten acres of morning glory vines?!  I think it could happen, so maybe not.  

But they are so pretty.  But so bad!  No, Rain, no morning glories when you move!

Not everything in the garden is flowers.  I make so much almond basil pesto tonight that we should be able to have pesto pizza's all winter, and I still have basil ready to be picked.  

Taste Test

Look who was crossing the road on our way to the farm on Saturday!  This snapper's shell was at least a foot long, and he turned and hissed at me when I jumped out of the truck to take his picture.  He was covered in wet mud, but he was pretty far from the creek, so he must have been moving fast.  

We had rain Friday night and Saturday morning, so we took advantage of the wet grass, and started burning our collection of lath from the house demolition.  

The plaster and insulation, and any painted boards, went in the dumpster, but we have been stock piling the lath strips so we could have a bonfire.  I imagined we would have a giant bonfire party when we moved in, but at this rate the lath pile would have composted into dirt before we got the chance to burn it, and since it's not the most attractive pile to have in the yard, so we went ahead and began burning it.  

Our chosen chore of the day was to level the downstairs bedroom ceiling.  I don't mean level it, as in to tear it to the ground, but make the long boards that hold up the upstairs floor level enough on the bottom to hang a flat ceiling.  I borrowed the self leveling laser from work, and we used it to project a laser beam on the wall that was level.  It's probably the first level thing to be in this house since it was built!  We found the lowest point in the ceiling, and measured the distance from that point to the beam, then made marks on the wall above the laser beam at that measurement in various locations.  It took several viewings of YouTube tutorials, and some head scratching to figure out what we were supposed to be doing, but we didn't give up.  

At the marks on the wall, we put screws and tied string across the room.  The strings were, hopefully, where we should nail boards onto the existing boards, to lower them and make everything nice and flat.  We clamped on the first first board after lining it up with the strings and put a bubble level on it.  It worked perfectly!  No two amateur carpenters were ever more proud of an accomplishment!  We have never made anything level the first time we tried.  Actually, we rarely get anything perfectly level ever, so it was a big moment.  

Brandon screwed the board in place, while I went out to stoke the burn pile, and we repeated the process until we finished nearly the entire ceiling.  

On one of my trips outside, I noticed that a horse drawn covered wagon, and several people on horseback were stopped at the end of the driveway.  

While all the work was going on, I had some of Joe's homegrown chickens in the smoker.  In the photo above, taken by headlamp, the one on the top is from his first batch of heritage roosters, most likely a barred rock.  The chicken on the bottom is from this most recent batch of cornish rock cross meat birds.  They really don't even look like the same species.  The meat bird has short fat legs, and incredibly beefy breast and stomach, and tiny short wings.  The heritage bird has massive legs and wings, and a longer thinner breast and body.  The skin on the heritage chicken was thicker and fattier, and has bigger chicken bumps (can they be called goose bumps when they are on a chicken?).  

Friends, including Joe, joined us for dinner around the bonfire, and we did a taste test of the breast meat once we pulled them from the smoker.  The chickens were perfectly cooked.  They had been in the smoker for a little over five hours, and the temperature at the top of the smoker stayed between 250 and 300 degrees for most of the time.  I used cherry wood chips and oiled and seasoned the skin before they went in, and they were a lovely color, and so moist they were like those old butterball commercials where they poked the bird with a fork and juice would run out.  There were actual groans when we finally got to taste them, and I could barely get folks to give me an opinion before they started scarfing.  I believe that overall, we all preferred the meat bird (shown at the top of the picture above) because it was slightly more tender and juicy, and the skin was thinner and not as tough.  Since the meat birds were only eight weeks old, it makes sense that they would be more tender.  I guess they are like the veal of the chicken world.  The heritage chicken had a more chickeny flavor, and the dark meat is especially chickeny.  I made soup with the left overs tonight, and it's perfect for that since it has more taste.  

Because the fire had burned all day, there were beautiful coals.   And because we can't see any light nearby, the moon and the stars were fantastic.  The red coals made a nice contrast, especially when Brandon started raking them to get the fire to burn out faster.  

Cell phone pictures just don't do them justice.  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Red Hot

Don't be fooled by the innocent beauty of these peppers.  I have learned that they are not friendly!  And now that I look at this picture, I can almost see a malicious gleam in Helen's eye, because she knows what I have in my bowl, and she's just waiting for me to put on a show.  

If I had been using my brain, I would have realized there was a reason that the peppers that managed to grow on the outside of the wire, which keeps the chickens out, didn't have beak marks ( a.k.a. chicken kisses).  I was pleased with the lovely red color, and topped off my harvest bowl with more than a dozen from a single plant.  Jamie came outside and I was showing off my harvest while he sampled cherry tomatoes.  I warned him not to eat one of the peppers yet, since I got the plant from starting seeds for Joe's garden, and he's is notorious for liking super spicy foods.  Because I do a terrible job labeling plants once they are in the ground, I had no idea what kind of pepper it was.   

So, while we were standing outside, I broke off the end of the pepper and smelled it. It smelled like a bell pepper.  Then I touched the end to my tongue.  No problem.  I put the end of the pepper in my mouth and chewed.  Sweet, and tasty.  I tell Jamie not to worry, it's a sweet pepper and take a big bite from the pepper.  FIRE!!!  Aaaaa!  It was like I misted pepper spray in my mouth, throat, and on my lips.  I didn't even chew, but spit it out.  I tell Jamie "it's hot!" and try not to evoke more laughter from him by sprinting into the house to chug milk in the most nonchalant way possible.  Turns out there's no way to look cool while tears and drool are leaking from your face.   


Once the initial burn subsided, I had a sort of numb heat feeling on my lips and mouth for at least an hour.  Since I don't normally bite into fresh hot peppers I can't really say if this is an extremely hot pepper, or a normal hot pepper, but it's the hottest pepper I have ever taken a bite of, for sure.   Hot peppers are supposed to release endorphins and make you feel good.  I did have a sense of relief once the pain started to fade, but I won't be repeating the experience any time soon.  While I was still sipping milk trying to cool the flames, Jamie did some quick interweb research and tells me that the hot part of a pepper is in the "placental fluid".  I thought only mammals had placentas, but I get the idea that the hot juice is near the embryos - the seeds, which explains why biting the end of the pepper is not a good test.   This mamma pepper plant did a very good job defending her young from this predator, and I will not be eating any of her seed babies.  At least not until they are dried, powdered, and cooked.      

A friend shared some of his Tia hot peppers recently too, and I think they look really cool once I used a needle and thread to string them.  I'm afraid to try one to see how hot they are, and so was he, so who knows.  

I put both strands of peppers on a tray in the window of my car to dry them.  So of course it rained all the next day, but if the sun keeps shining, I hope to have some dried hot peppers soon.  
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