Hens Busy Dust Bathing

It’s difficult to capture the cuteness of this chicken behavior with a still camera–we really should try to make a  video.  Anyway, this is called “dusting” or “dust bathing.” The ladies have dug a hole in our yard and are gleefully rolling around in it, flicking loose dirt under their wings and driving it between their feathers. This is an innate behavior and an important part of chicken hygiene. Dusting suffocates skin parasites that prey on chickens, and it also seems to be pleasurable for the hens, judging by their blissful expressions.

After dusting they puff up and shake off, and settle in to do fine cleaning by preening. When they’re done, they’re all pretty and shiny.

It’s really important that chickens have constant access to dirt–loose, dry, sandy dirt–so they can dust at will. If for whatever reason your chickens don’t have this access, whether that’s because they’re being raised in a concrete floor, or are trapped inside because of bad weather, or your chicken run is swamped with mud, or whatever, it’s a smart thing to provide them with a tray of dirt so they can bathe. Dusting is nature’s favored method of insect control.

ETA: To give you some indication of size, a kitty litter tray would be a good size for a few hens to share, a cement mixing tray for a bigger flock.

Warning: Rant Ahead

We first got our own hens because we disagreed with the industrial style of raising chickens and farming eggs.  But at the time that disagreement was purely theoretical–now it’s stronger than ever, because it’s based on practice. The more we know, and experience the fundamentals of chicken life, the more appalling the industrial practices become.  One fundamental is that chickens are designed to live on dirt. They love to scratch, peck, dig and bathe in it. Take dirt away from them and you have to scramble to make up for that deficit in unnatural ways. Being unable to scratch, chickens get bored and peck at each other–so their beaks have to be cut off. Deprived of the ability to dust, they get mites and lice, and have to be treated with pesticides. It’s just sad.

Evolution is Evolving

Mrs. Homegrown hard at work reconfiguring the Blog-O-Nator

 Mrs. Homegrown here:

We’re going to be doing some redecorating and redesign on this site over the next few weeks. The main reason we’re doing this is to make the blog more useful and accessible. This means, to start, that we’re going to clean up the tags and rearrange all the links and stuff on the right side of the page.

Then, a little bit down the road, we’re going to change our look. (!!!) I know it’s always a little traumatic when a blog you read regularly redesigns itself, but let’s face it, the place needs a fresh coat of paint. But again, that won’t be a for a bit.

In the meanwhile, forgive any weirdness that might occur as we figure out what we’re doing.

Bean Fest, Episode 5: Black-Eyed Pea Salad (Lubyi Msallat)

We still haven’t learned to take the picture before we start to eat–and were too impatient to keep eating to take a close-up! Chick pea salad, pita and sheep’s cheese.

Mrs. Homestead here:

This week’s Bean Fest installment comes from a cookbook we’ve been trying out over the last week called Vegetarian Dishes from Across the Middle East, by Arto der Haroutunian. These recipes really fit well with our kitchen just now, considering its emphasis on classic summer vegetables (like eggplants, cucumbers and tomatoes) and bulk bin foods like beans and grains.

This black-eyed pea appetizer (meze) is of Syrian-Lebanese origin and is easy to prepare. All you have to do is boil up the beans* and then make a dressing for them. Erik said it reminded him a little of a tabouleh, except it had beans instead of grains.

*Black-eyed peas (aka cow peas) are beans. Sometimes they are called black-eyed beans, in fact. What’s the difference between beans and peas? Both are members of the legume family, but pea plants have tendrils, while bean plants do not.  That’s the easiest distinction to make, though I’m sure it gets more complicated the more you know.

Lubyi Msallat

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 small onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil

Cook the beans:

Drain the soaking water off the beans and put them in a saucepan. Cover with a couple of inches of fresh water and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until the the beans are tender (but not mushy), adding water as necessary.  As you do this, try not to be envious of people with pressure cookers.

Prep the dressing:

The book says “crush the garlic and salt together” so I used our mortar and pestle to grind the salt into the garlic clove.  (I imagine you might be able to do the same in a bowl with the bottom of a sturdy glass. Otherwise, I’d either mince or press the garlic and add the salt to the salad separately.)

Then, after the garlic and salt are crushed, mix the lemon juice into the garlic-salt paste. (Again, this could be added separately).

Combine everything:

Drain the beans well, maybe rinse them too, as black-eyed peas seem prone to generate some scum when cooking. Toss them with the chopped onion and parsley.  Now add the salt-garlic-lemon juice and the cumin. Mix everything thoroughly.  Pour the oil over the top.  Garnish with paprika, if desired, and lemon wedges.

Serve hot or cold or room temperature, along with pita bread. A great picnic food, or just to keep in the fridge for a quick lunch or healthy snack.

Tune in next week for another episode of Bean Fest!

We like this: Shovelgloving

cute cats shamelessly stolen from Shovelglove homepage

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Just a note to point you to a site rec’d by one of our commenters in our last post. It’s for a DIY exercise system based on swinging a sledgehammer around: http://www.shovelglove.com.

Swinging around a padded sledgehammer, that is, like the one the cats are inspecting above. (Though frankly I’m not too convinced that a sweater will do much to protect anything from a sledgehammer. Okay, maybe it will protect the floor from accidental scratches, but I think those cats better not be lulled into complacency by its fuzzy, friendly appearance.)

Generally I don’t like “exercise” as a concept. I avoid gyms the way others might avoid leper colonies or malls during the holiday season, because it seems inherently ridiculous to travel to a climate-controleld machine-space and pay to expend energy toward no particular purpose. Yeah, I know, the idea is that exercise makes you healthy, but isn’t life supposed to be full of free exercise? When did it become an isolated activity?

Anyhoo, this shovelgloving business (shugging, I think they call it) is, admittedly, still a bit on the abstract side for me, meaning the labor doesn’t produce anything, but heck, I’m an urbanite. My entire life is rather abstract.  I lack wood to chop, butter to churn, rails to drive &etc. — at least on a day to day basis.

On the good side, it’s free (as long as you have a sledgehammer–and if you don’t, you should–very handy things, sledgehammers), you can do it at home, it at least references useful body motions, and it looks like lots of goofy fun. It will make more sense when you go see it.

That one shovelglove page, minimal at first glance, leads to a whole world of videos and other time sucks, so be careful if you’re trying to get anything done. But speaking of procrastination, check out the author’s main page, Everyday Systems. The shovelglove is not his only idea. He also has a fiendishly simple diet plan and lots of other funny and commonsensical ideas to explore.

And yes, before any of you say it, it is potentially quite dangerous to swing a sledgehammer around. So if you try it, be sure not to knock yourself or your loved ones in the head. And start slow and move thoughtfully and with good posture to protect your back from injury.

I’m going to try it, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Unless I brain myself.

Hipster Honeybear

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Erik puts molasses in his coffee and keeps the molasses in an old honeybear. I’m endlessly amused by the honeybear’s resulting mustache. Now, if he just had the handlebar mustache, I’d take him for a hip kid, one of those boys in tight jeans pedaling their fixie whips around the neighborhood. But it looks like he’s got a soul patch, too. So he’s either a refugee from the 90′s (Grunge being the last great soul patch era), or perhaps a jazz musician? Or, if you squint and pretend his cap is a beret, a Frenchman.

Bean Fest, Episode 4: Frijoles Refritos

Refritos are not photogenic, so I decided to show the more tempting end use. Photo by Ernesto Andrade.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I can’t believe I’ve never made frijoles refritos--refried beans–before. All these years of scooping that suspicious stuff out of the can–what was I thinking??? Now I see refritos as the natural destiny of any leftover beans.

Refried beans (that name is a mistranslation–refrito means well cooked, not re-fried, but the name stuck) are simply cooked beans that are mashed in a frying pan along with some seasonings and fat. What makes them a little shady to the health conscious and vegetarian set is that they are traditionally fried in lard. But vegetable oil can be used just as well, and I’d add for the sake of fairness, that real, home cooked lard from well-raised pigs is not such a bad fat. For what it’s worth.

To make refried beans you just need to have some cooked beans on hand, the classic choice being pintos.  In Tex-Mex cooking the pintos meant for refritos are first cooked with onion, garlic and a pork rind. Considering that refritos are fried in a bath in oil, garlic and onion, you could theoretically start with very plain boiled beans. But on the other hand, if the beans are tasty at the start, they’ll just be all that more tasty after frying with yet more onion and garlic. Which brings us back to the idea of them being the perfect use for leftover beans. I think this would work well with any leftover beans, whatever the type.

I cooked up my pintos for dual purpose eating. Half were to go over rice, and half reserved for this experiment, so I my beans weren’t plain. Because I liked John’s Bastardized Puerto Rican beans from last week so much, I followed that technique and did a long saute of onion, garlic and parsley in the bottom of the bean pot, then added the drained, pre-soaked pintos and enough stock to cover the beans by about an inch. These I simmered uncovered for a little more than an hour until everything was tender, then I added lots of salt and pepper.

The leftovers from that batch were put in the fridge overnight to become frijoles refritos.

If you read a refried bean recipe, it will ask you to drain your cooked beans and reserve the bean stock. So if you have a pot of beans with lots of liquid, do that: drain and reserve the liquid. My cooked beans were cold, and whatever liquid they still had around them had congealed into a sort of bean gravy.  Don’t worry if that’s true for you–don’t worry about any of it. Refritos are so easy to make its impossible to go wrong. Keep reading.

Just get yourself a big frying pan. Heat up a couple tablespoons of oil or fat of your choice in the bottom. Add a good quantity of minced onion. (I used 1/2 an onion for 3 cups of beans). Saute until the onion turns translucent. Then add in a clove or two of minced garlic, if you like, and cook that for another minute or so. If you like spicy beans, at this point you could also add some chopped fresh hot peppers or some red pepper flakes.

Once this flavor base is established, add a couple of cups of cooked beans to the pan and mash them with a potato masher or back of a spatula, stirring as you go to mix in all the fat and flavor. Here’s a little hint: if you’re making a big batch, don’t put all your beans in the pan at once, because smashing them will become a nightmare. Start with a couple of cups, mash those, then add more bit by bit.

Your goal is to make the beans into a paste, so you have take them to the correct level of dryness–and that is going to be dictated by your own personal preference. So if you’re smashing up well drained beans, you’d add the reserved liquid back in 1/4 cup at a time, until the beans had reached the consistency you like. In my case, I couldn’t separate the beans and liquid in my leftovers. As it turned out, they mashed up a little too wet, but the excess moisture quickly cooked off. If they’d seemed too dry, I would have just added a little water–or stock, if I had some.

That’s really all there is to it. It only takes a few minutes. Taste the beans as you go and adjust the seasoning. More salt is always a good call. It’s up to you whether you want a chunky or smooth texture. Make the beans richer, almost silky, by adding a little more oil or fat as you’re mashing and cooking.

Once they’re done, they’re ready for all the classic applications: burritos, quesadillas, sopes, tostadas, dips. They’re also good eaten with a spoon, hot out of a bowl with a little cheese and maybe some diced tomatoes or avocado on top.

***

Bean Fest continues next Friday! If you have a favorite recipe, send it in.

Behold the Squash Baby

He’d lay down his life for his squash baby

Mrs. Homegrown here:

It’s 36 inches long as of today, and mystifying passers-by. I think I underestimated its size in the first post, where I claimed it was 20 inches. It was probably closer to 30″ at that point. The curvature makes it hard to judge. (I love the way it arches out of the raised bed–see the pic below). The thing is actually inching into the driveway now. Every time I pull the car into the garage I worry that I’ll clip it.  How would I ever face Erik again?

(For backstory on this, click here.)

I wanted to remove the nasturtium and other leaves blocking the view of the squash for this photo, but Erik cried, “No, you’ll ruin the camouflage!”

Thank you, everyone

Photo: Pénélope Fortier, from an article about us at Cyberpresse.ca
Mrs. Homegrown here:
We just wanted to say thank you to all of you who have expressed condolences this week via the blog, Facebook, or email–as well of those of you who just sent positive thoughts. We could feel the good energy. It’s been a hard week, but your good wishes really helped. 

We’re resuming regular posting. There’s squash baby updates to be made!

Spike 1998-2010

Our much loved 12 year old Doberman passed tonight. It’s been a horrible day spent going back and forth to the emergency vet, but he went fast, which was a blessing. Right now we’re blindsided. The house feels like it has a crater in the middle of it. He’s been with us since he was a puppy, so we really don’t know how to get along without him anymore.

His name was Spike, unless it was Deiter, which was also his name. He was intelligent, intense, and as fiercely attached to us as we were to him. He was also gorgeous. We never tired of looking at him.

He was very healthy all his life, and only began to slow down in his last year. We attribute his longevity to the vast quantities of avocados and heirloom tomatoes he pilfered from our garden. He might have died of pancreatitis, but we’re not sure, and probably will never know. 12 is quite old for a big Doberman male, so intellectually we know we had a good run with him. But right now all we want is to have our dog back.

Homegrown Evolution will be on hiatus for a couple of days.

***

ETA: Our friend Doug has posted a photo tribute to Spike at his website.

Can’t sleep so had come back to eulogize a bit. Just sending this out into the ether. It has to go somewhere.

Spike loved people, more so in the second half of his life when he gave up on his innate, guard dog aloofness. Any visitor to our house was greeted by a 95 lb, pointy eared demon dog, barking deep chested from the porch. I’d have to shout over the barks that this was simply him saying “Pet me! Pet me now!” to the terrified visitors. And sure enough, as soon as they came in he’d stop barking and demand admiration.

He loved little dogs and puppies more than anything, more than people perhaps. He was good with all dogs, never aggressive, but he’d get particularly excited whenever he saw a puppy. With puppies and little dogs he’d lay down on his belly so he could be eye to eye with them, and so they would not be as afraid of him.

He was terrified of cords. Phone cords, computer cables, etc. Wouldn’t cross them. Treated them like snakes. When he wanted to cross over a cord, or needed something on the other side of the cord, he’d bark this particular high pitched bark at it until we came and took it away.  Similarly, he would not nose or paw open doors, so would also bark at any door not open sufficiently wide for him.

His greatest love was perhaps the sofa. His sofa. When I think of him, one of the predominant images is of him sprawled across the sofa on his back, front paws in the air, back legs spread obscenely wide.

He purred. Especially when you rubbed his ears. It sounded like a soft growl. In fact, the first time I heard him do it (the habit started later in life) I thought he was growling at me, and scolded him for it. But we figured it out and made up. 

They call Dobermans “velcro dogs” because they have to be by your side. Where ever I was in the house, he was next to me. He’d wake out of a deep nap to follow me. Even in his last days when it was hard for him to move around, he’d heave himself up and follow. Lately I started trying to stay in the same place as much as possible to save him steps. This velcro nature had a darker side. He was deeply unhappy when Erik and I were away from home. He couldn’t stand to be separated from us. So of course we were always uneasy when we had to leave him. Which is one of many reasons why it is so painful to be separated from him tonight. I think it was hard for him to leave us.

Spike was driven to learn and work. He went to many dog classes in his time, and if we weren’t so lazy, could doubtlessly have been trained to do anything: work calculus problems, drive a cab–anything.  The last thing he learned was a sport called “fun nose work” wherein dogs search for targets of scented oil. He loved sniffing for treats, and got his sniffing title (NW1) at age 11.

He never harassed our chickens, or even looked at them sideways. He seemed to get that they were not food from the very beginning, and we could let them all wander around our yard together. Often I’d see big old leggy Spike standing in the middle of the yard, slightly befuddled, while hens pecked at the ground between his legs.

Sometimes I’d find him sniffing around the beehive, which always made my heart stop, but the bees seemed to understand that he meant no harm. I certainly couldn’t have come that close to them with impunity. Creatures are smart that way.

Spike slept on the floor (well, on his own bed) next to my side of the bed. Every night he needed petting before he’d lay down and go to sleep. If I tried to ignore him and play possum, he’d nudge his nose under my arm. I called this ritual “night time reassurances.” If I was gone, Erik would substitute. It started when he was a puppy, when I’d have to lean out and down from the edge of the bed to stroke his little head. It continued all his life, though when he was an adult, he loomed over me when I was laying in bed, so I had to reach up slightly for the mandatory chin scratching and ear stroking.

He became hard of hearing in his last year or so, and that was difficult for all of us, because prior to that he’d been so word-oriented. I’d never met a dog who listened so intently, or knew so many words. What was extra amazing was that he eavesdropped. He knew the name of our friends and their dogs. If we mentioned any of them in conversation he’d coming wagging up to us, all excited, because he thought if we mentioned them, they must be on their way over.

Our regular, somewhat cruel, language game with him was to start the sentence: “Do you want to go…?”  He knew the correct ending was “…for a walk?” But instead of ending it with “walk”, we’d tease him by ending it with things like “…to the bank?” “….to the Netherlands?” And he’d go from thrilled to consternated when the sentence didn’t end right. Doberman consternation is a sight to see. The brow wrinkles. The pointy ears spin and twitch. You can almost hear him saying, “Whaa??” After teasing him a couple times with false endings, we’d finally say the magic word–walk– and then he’d bound around for joy.

For the last year of his life he was on steroids, and those made him hungry all the time. He became a consummate food thief. What was so stunning about his thievery was the timing of it. He watched and waited for the perfect moment, and then struck with the speed of a shark. And I don’t mean he waited til we left the room. He’d wait until all human attention was well focused elsewhere–a distraction or some such. It’s hard to explain unless you saw it, but his timing was breathtakingly clever. I couldn’t even be mad because it was so brilliant.

Spike had a third name, Dorr’s Braveheart. This is the name on his registry papers. He was the last in a line of a superb family of Dobermans.  Within moments of meeting his parents, they were curled up on the breeder’s couch with me. I knew I had to have one of their babies.

We have one small car, a hatchback. On car trips, Spike had to make due with the narrow back seat. Mostly he insisted on balancing his front paws on the arm rest between the two front seats, while his hind end was on the back seat. Positioned this way, he’d car surf. The goal, I think, was to have his nose line up with ours, because a car ride was like running with the pack. The last time we took a ride with him (other than the rush to the vet today) his balance was not so good, so he leaned against me as we drove. Shoulder to shoulder and cheek to cheek.

While I hope one day to know another dog as special as Spike, I know such gifts don’t come frequently. I’ve met few dogs so sensitive and intelligent and sweet. We were blessed to spend 12 years with him at our side.

Back on the Yogurt Train: How to Make Yogurt

This is how I want my yogurt.
Dadiah, traditional West Sumatran water buffalo yogurt, fermented in bamboo segments. Courtesy of Wikimedia. Photo by Meutia Chaeran.
Mrs. Homegrown here:
One reason I make a lot of my own stuff is because I’m trying to avoid plastic packaging. And as I’m sure you know, that’s pretty much impossible these days–but I do what I can. Lately I’ve realized that one consistent source of waste plastic in our kitchen comes in the form of yogurt tubs. This is a little silly, because we know how to make yogurt. In fact, I do believe we covered it in our book.
Thing is, back in the day when we made yogurt, it was Erik’s job. When he slacked on it, I didn’t even consider picking it up. Chalk it up to the mysteries of division of labor in a household.
Anyway, we went to see Mark Frauenfelder talk about his great new book, Made by Hand, and one of things he mentioned was how much he and his family are digging making their own yogurt–and how cost effective it’s been for them. He inspired me to get back on the yogurt train.
It’s so darn easy, we should all be on the yogurt train. One great thing about it is that it not only saves money, but it saves packaging, and gives you more bang for your milk buck. We only use milk for coffee around here, so sometimes our milk goes bad. Now we make most of it into yogurt and there’s no waste, no excess packaging. And if we make some of that yogurt into yogurt cheese or use it instead of sour cream, that saves more packaging.
How to Make Yogurt:
Here’s how I’m making yogurt these days–it might vary a little from Erik’s methodologies in our book, but all yogurt making is basically the same. You’ll need a cooler for this.
Gather together:
  1. A cooler to keep the yogurt warm while it ferments. I’m sure there are many ways to keep yogurt warm, but I find the cooler straightforward, and that’s what I’m going to describe here. We make two quarts at a time in a little six pack cooler.
  2. Very clean canning-type jars
  3. Hot water bottle (optional)
  4. Towel(s) for insulation
  5. Your last store bought container of yogurt. You need live yogurt to start the culture, only a few spoonfuls. The label should say something about containing live, active cultures. You’ll need 1 Tablespoon of live yogurt for every quart of milk you’re transforming.
  6. Milk, of course. Make sure your milk doesn’t say “Ultra Pasturized” or UP on the label. That stuff is just nasty. Otherwise, you can use whole, 2%, 1% — and even skim, I presume, though I’ve never tried it. How much milk? As much as you want. But it seems to me that for the trouble, a quart would be the minimum it would be worthwhile making. After all, it keeps a long time. 
The procedure:
  • Heat milk gently to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’ve got a thermometer, great. If you don’t, 180F is where the milk starts to simmer. Just watch for those first tiny bubbles to start rising. When they do, turn off the heat. (Heating the milk makes for thicker yogurt. You could skip this step if you like. I would skip it if I got my hands on some nice raw milk.)
  • Let the milk cool down to about 110F. This is the only hard part–waiting for it to cool. 110F is about as hot as a hot bath. You can put your finger in it and keep it there.
  • While you’re waiting, boil water to heat your jars. I like to fill my jars with boiling water, cap them, and let them sit until it’s time to use them, at which point I pour the water out. I know it’s not really sterilization, but it’s something, and it pre-heats the jars, which is important. You could also pull the jars straight from a hot dishwasher, or actually boil them. Also, you’ll want to pre-heat your cooler. Pour hot water in it as well and let it sit until the last moment. And fill up your hot water bottle, if you have one.
  • Stir in 1 Tablespoon of yogurt for every quart of milk in your pot. Use no more than that. Stir until dissolved.
  • Transfer the inoculated milk into warm jars, cap them, and stuff them into the warm cooler (which you’ve emptied of water). Do all this fast so you don’t lose much heat. Your mission is to fill the cooler up, so there’s no empty space, with some combination of jars of yogurt, towels and heating devices like hot water bottles or lacking one of those, just more jars filled with hot water. My routine is to put 2 quart jars in a six pack cooler, slide a hot water bottle between them, and pack the top of the cooler with an old towel, so that I can just barely manage to lock the lid in place.
  • The goal is to keep the yogurt very warm for about 8-12 hours. You might not be able to keep it at 110F the whole time, but it should be in that neighborhood. Certainly above body temperature. My set up described above seems to do that well enough. I’ve never checked the temp. inside, fearing to lose the heat. It just works.
  • After 8-12 hours the milk in the jars should look yogurty and taste yogurty. It might not appear thick enough, but remember that it is quite warm. It will thicken some after it goes in the fridge.
  • If it doesn’t look yogurty at all, add a smidge more starter, rewarm the cooler and everything, and try it again for another 8 hours. Consider that your starter–your store bought yogurt–may not be alive. Either that or the cooler wasn’t warm enough.