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Monthly Archives: February 2007

All things Chicken

I went chicken shopping yesterday. Dianne came over to workout with me in the morning (with those tapes I bought at the Big Chicken Pawn Shop – started a thematic day), after which we went downtown to gorge on sesame chicken at the Chinese restaurant. (God forbid we let the benefits of working out last for more than an hour.) Before we went home, I said I wanted to stop by Browns, the feed store, to talk to Linda, the owner, about my rooster windfall. Dianne was still too dazed by the workout to argue.


Linda is a warm and funny person, who lights up whenever the talk turns to all things chicken. She has pet chickens walking around the store, as tame as a dog or parrot. Linda likes me, because I am a poultry enthusiast – I ask lots of questions about chickens, peacocks and the like. I especially like ducks, but I have to wait for a pond to get them. (sigh) I visit Browns often for advice and to purchase new birds. I tend to buy everything except my horse feed there, to support the shop. (I buy my horse feed at an even smaller place near my house, owned by a man named Rabbit.) There’s a new, fancy, state-of-the-art, feed and tack franchise in town, but I like giving my business to the struggling independents.


Anyway, when I saw Linda, I said, “What are the chances that I would buy unsexed chickens and six out of seven would turn out to be male? Just my luck.”


Her eyes grew round and she said, “You better bring some of those Roosters here. I’ll get rid of them for you. I’ll swap them out for some girls. Do it soon. They’re just now reaching puberty. It’s only a matter of time till you have big trouble.”


Well, I don’t want big rooster trouble, that’s for sure. So, I am in mourning over my soon-to-be-lost boys. I don’t know who I can bare to give up. I love my crowing boys all for different reasons. I have to keep Joe, because he is my loudest and the classic rooster of a girl’s dreams. I like Dylan because he has such an exotic look, and he crows the most. I can’t give up Yang, the black silkie, because that is Neva’s best-friend bird. If I kept only one bird, it would have to be that one. I can give up Ying, the white silkie -this bird was the final holdout in showing his true colors, so I consider him a traitor anyway. How dare “she” be a “he” and kill any hope I had for eggs?  I certainly can’t give up my little bannie, Pot Pie, because the only girl I have is the other bannie, Drumstick, and they roost together every night in this cozy, romantic way. I can’t break up a couple and sleep nights myself.  So, as you can see, I’m feeling very torn.


Mark says, “Get rid of the mean one with the crazy head. And what is the point of two silkies? And that little Bannie is a joke. He can go.”


The man has no heart.


While at the store, I decided it was time to start chicken shopping- the spring chicks are just now arriving. I know it’s still cold, but preparations for spring are everywhere in the country. It’s time to start digging up gardens and planting starter seeds. I’m getting this self-sufficient country thing down now, and I’ve got big plans for produce. Subject for a future veggie blog, ya know.


Chicks must stay indoors under a heat lamp for a few months, so the sooner I get them the sooner they will be out in the chicken house, laying. I’m told in four months, I’ll be collecting eggs. I am spending the big bucks to make sure I WILL have eggs this time. This means I’m shelling out four bucks a head, a fair investment for something that will provide me with two years of egg laying. At an egg a day, that means I’m spending $4 for 730 eggs. That is .005 cents an egg.  Bet you are thinking of getting a chicken or two yourself when you see those kinds of amazing returns!


The first batch of spring chickens that came in this week was Americanos. They are big, fat, traditional chickens, brown and white, that lay big, pale blue-green eggs.


I said, “What do you think?”


Dianne said, “I wouldn’t eat a blue egg. Yuck. Don’t think for a minute you’ll be giving me any of those.”


I pointed out that the eggs all taste the same inside.


Linda laughs and says, “Haven’t you heard of green eggs and ham? Americanos are the best.”


But Dianne wrinkles up her nose and insists she won’t accept any gift eggs that do not look like those you purchase at the grocery store. Unless, maybe at Easter because then she can avoid having to dye them (What kind of holiday slacker attitude is that?)


I ask you, what is it about Grocery store food that makes people feel secure? If you’ve seen it before, you trust it? Ee-gad. As far as I’m concerned, most of the offerings at commercial grocery stores are scary. They fill the products with preservatives for shelf life extension. Many of these items have often been transported and stored for days. Heck, I’m afraid of the tricks used to keep this food looking appealing sometimes too. The more I learn about what is involved with growing and raising food, the more appalled I am at what I’ve eaten in my lifetime.


For example, I buy my hay from a fellow who runs a Tyson farm a few blocks from our home, and he has over 20K chickens. He let us visit the open pens in a huge warehouse one day – talk about chicken madness! He runs the factory that gathers the eggs that quickly (unnaturally)become the chickens we eat.  He explained how this works. These birds walk around in shit all day, are force-fed, slaughtered before they are six weeks old, the carcasses filled with dye, and then plunked into the supermarket case with nary a kind word spoken to them. (That is why he likes being on the egg end of the process.) He even sends the broken or rotting eggs to the Tyson factory because they are used in other products. Fresh eggs are hatched. The soiled eggs are those we eat in “stuff”. All I know is this doesn’t inspire supermarket product confidence for me.


I asked Dianne if she would eat brown eggs. She wavered a minute and then said, “I guess.” So, I turned my attentions to the Rhode Island Reds -huge red chickens that lay extra large brown eggs. I like the idea of redheaded chickens. They all look the same, so individual names might be hard to assign, but  I can call them all Lucy.


I ended up buying two blue egg laying Americanos with different markings (so I can name them) and three brown egg laying Rhode Island Reds (My Lucy trio). Next week I’ll buy some white egg layers too. I want a colorful arrangement of different breeds. They’ll lay different sorts of eggs, which will help me know who is laying what. The different breeds also help me have an individual chicken relationship with each bird. Gotta keep it personal, ya know.  I plan to keep about a dozen chickens, knowing that when I let them out to free range, it is likely a hawk or dog might pick off one or two.


Dianne leaned down and peered into the cage filled with chicks and said, “One egg a day sure doesn’t seem like much. It will take you forever to get a dozen.”


I laughed and pointed out that if I have twelve chickens, I will have a dozen eggs a day. That is plenty. Some days, I easily use a dozen eggs. I make egg casseroles or deviled eggs. Mark has been known to eat six fried eggs for breakfast. I use eggs for baking and such, and sometimes when we are dieting, I only use the whites, so I use twice as many eggs for half as much egg additive. But some days, I don’t use eggs at all. We go out to breakfast, or have pancakes, or we spend a day in Atlanta, so I don’t cook at all. In a case like that, I’ll have twenty-four eggs the next day. And what if I go two days without cooking or leave town for several days? I’ll have 36 eggs waiting for me. And what about when we go to Europe next summer for a few weeks? I’ll be leaving an egg explosion behind me. Seems to me very likely that unless your entire existence is about staying home eating eggs, your egg-stock might build up pretty quickly. I have an extra fridge in the garage, but I wasn’t counting on it becoming an egg facility alone. This is why I asked Dianne if she’d eat blue eggs. I’m planning to supply the family, my neighbors, strangers on the street… whomever, with the excess.


“I didn’t think of it that way,” Dianne said. “I guess one a day is enough. But remember, you can keep the blue eggs.”

“Except on Easter,” I reminded her, because, heck, I have big plans to dye eggs with natural ingredients this year – flowers and such. I’ll need white eggs for that. We can trade then, when our egg appreciation situations reverse.


When I was sharing this conversation with Mark, he said, “Maybe you should just stick to six chickens, and the egg dilemma won’t ever be an issue. Not like you can’t buy extra eggs for 1.78 a dozen when need be.”


That won’t work. First of all, you must wait four months for chickens to start laying, so if something attacks my flock and kills several birds, my enterprise would be easily wiped out. That would mean waiting a long time to get back in egg service. Second of all, I still have to contend with how many beloved roosters I can keep. The more girls I have strutting around, the more boys I can keep. Then, there is the fact that I’d have a fit if I had a guest over and was planning one of my grand, exquisite breakfasts, and found I had to actually buy extra eggs to fulfill my cooking plans. Once I begin doing the homegrown egg thing, I never plan to buy eggs again. It’s the principal of the thing. Seems like I’d be letting down mother nature, and I have every intention of making my guests walk down to the henhouse and collect the eggs before I cook them. Certain life experiences are so much fun to witness city dwellers wrestle with, that I can’t risk losing out on the laugh. All told, I’d rather have too many eggs, rather than too few. It isn’t like extra chickens cost anything to feed or care for. It is only a matter of the tiny, upfront investment, and raising chicks is more fun than work.  


As such, I’ll only be comfortable with a dozen chickens. I’ll get replacements chicks along the way when (if) something happens to the original stock. So, I probably will have a dozen birds, but not necessarily a dozen egg-layers at a time anyway.


Wow, this sounds complicated. It’s not.


The point is, I have begun repairing my chicken problems. I have to fill that expensive hen house with something productive to justify my folly. I have five girls now, peeping downstairs in the pool table room (a good place since we have no pool table as yet). Next week, I’ll add some white egg layers too. I’ll have the house ringing with peeps before the month is out.


Ever see that episode of Lucy where she has a farmhouse filled with baby chicks? Ha. That will be me.



There is no point

My husband’s horse, Goliath, got his foot stuck in the fence yesterday. I had the horses tied up while I was filling their buckets with sweet-feed, and he must have pawed the ground, because the bottom wire of the fence got wedged between his hoof and the horseshoe. The more he pulled, the deeper embedded the fence became.


This is not a good thing for the horse or the fence. Frankly, I cannot afford unnecessary vet bills, or fence repair bills. I swore under my breath and went to free him. However, for the life of me, I couldn’t get the wire out from under his shoe. I ended up climbing under the horse and wedging my shoulder under his leg to keep it off the ground so I could use both hands. I pulled and pulled, but to no avail. The horse was busy eating his feed, so he didn’t give me any trouble, but he didn’t help either. The big lug. Meanwhile, my dogs found the entire situation arousing, so they stood just out of reach, barking and doing their best to agitate the horse so he would stamp and shuffle about. They apparently thought it would be amusing to see me get squished. Damn dogs.


I tried using a horse pick (a device used to clean rocks and dirt out of horseshoes) to help dislodge the wire, but that didn’t do a thing. I cursed, but that didn’t do a thing either. My fingers were frozen, my temper hot. I called my husband (who was on a trip to Wal-Mart) and explained the situation. It is his dumb horse, after all.  


He responded with his usual sensitivity regarding my animal dilemmas. He said, “What the hell do you want me to do about it? I’m 35 minutes away.”


“Where are the wire cutters? I will simply cut the fence away.”


“I don’t have any.”


Baloney. I know he has wire cutters, because he used them to cut away the fence when the baby horse was stuck in it last spring. I reminded him of that. He was silent for a minute and then said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. We don’t own wire cutters.”


Now, I’m assuming he is just saying that because he doesn’t want me touching his wire cutters. He is very possessive about his things. God forbid I ever touch one of his tools, or use his toothpaste or shampoo, or dare leave my girl cooties on any of his clothes. Trust me, when my husband was in preschool, he was the kid who never got the concept of sharing, always hitting other kids over the head with a block if they dared wander over to where he was building a tower.


I told him that since he was at Wal-Mart, then to please buy a good pair of wire cutters for me to keep with my tack for this kind of emergency. He said, ” Wal-Mart doesn’t have any.”


Now, I’m pretty sure our Wal-Mart has basic tools. They even carry riffles at our Wal-mart, therefore, I assume he is saying this because he doesn’t want me to have the ability to cut the fence. Ever. As if I am going to go around destroying it to avoid sweating on occasion.


Mark then said he’d call the fence guy. Maybe he could run over and help me, because if the fence did need to be cut, it would have to be repaired anyway. Meanwhile, I can see the horse getting more and more agitated, pulling at his leg. Snorting. I can tell that waiting is a really bad idea, and there is no guarantee the fence guy is available anyway. This makes me even more frustrated, so lovingly, I hang up on Mr. 35-minutes-away-and-no-help-whatsoever. I return to wrestle with Goliath some more. I don’t accept defeat easily. I try moving the horse from side to side to get a better angle on the snag. I put my foot on the bottom of the fence wire so I can yank harder. I try slamming a piece of wood against the wire. Nothing. The horse is now finished eating. He is interested in what underwear I have on, which apparently is showing as I bend over. I know this because he takes a nibble and gives me a serious wedgie. I am now so pissed I could scream.  Therefore, I do what any resourceful, independent girl would do in a situation like this.


I cry.


I stomp out of the pasture thinking I’ll walk up to the workshop and ransack the place looking for the alleged wire cutters that I know are there. And just then, I turn around and the horse is no longer caught on the fence. His foot is now simply stuck in the weave, but the wire is no longer under his horseshoe. He is stronger than I, so it is possible he just pulled the correct direction and it came out, but I think what really happened is that I loosened it for him, like I do with the lids of jars that are stuck. That is how my husband opens them, you know.


O.K. A horse that has merely stepped into the fence is something I can handle.  I run over and get Goliath loose before he jams his foot into the fence again. He lumbers away nonchalantly. The dogs bound away to find other mischief. I call my husband and say everything is fine now. Don’t fret. I saved the day. I know you are worried over there at Wal-mart as you avoid the wire cutter aisle. He told me he had called my daughter’s boyfriend for help, so he had to get off the phone to call off the posse. Since I am no longer a damsel in distress, I agree.


Next, I’m off to feed the chickens.  On the way, I push and pull to straighten the wire of the fence so that particular issue won’t happen again. I now notice there’s quite a racket going on over in the bird pen. Crowing. LOTS of crowing. I walk over and peer into the fence and don’t ya know the silkie’s are crowing. I blink, as if I didn’t trust what I’m seeing. No, that crowing IS coming from those would-be chickens. Great. Now I have five roosters and only one measly, non-egg-laying chicken. That is so like my life. I want a little cabin in the woods, and I end up in a gigantic personal lodge on 50 acres. I want a nice singing rooster. I end up with a half dozen squawking boy birds. I am the model for the be-careful-what-you-wish-for poster.


With everyone fed and cared for, I return to the house to make dinner. I invite my mother-in-law and sister-in- law to dinner once or twice a week. When I do, I go hog-wild and make a big fancy meal. Not that I have to, but company gives me an excuse to cook. Everyone thinks it’s pretty wonderful that I consider my own family such special guests that they deserve top of the line fare. For example, last week I made soup followed by scallops in champagne sauce and grilled salmon, followed by three layer coffee brownies a la mode.


I’ve told them the truth is, I just like cooking, but if they want to think I labor because they are special, well who am I to burst their bubble? Anyway, this week I was making a Mediterranean chicken dish, sautéed in wine with olives and cinnamon.


Mark hates olives. My mother-in-law hates cinnamon. My kids hate everything that isn’t McDonalds. Obviously, I’m not caring enough to pick my meals determined by my family’s likes and dislikes. For me, it is all about what recipes I run into during the week that look fascinating or offer me something new to try. To appease my guilt over my menu choice, I also made a nice caramel apple crisp. Then, I made a casserole of stuffed shells as my “backup” dish. A back up dish is something you make so people don’t complain all through dinner about your cooking, which can happen when you’re experimental. Granted, Italian shells absolutely do not go with Mediterranean Chicken and a pasta broccoli sauté, but it was what I had in the house and it was a no-brainer.  


Turns out the chicken was a big hit after all. In fact, I’m told it was one of the best things I’ve ever made. Even the kids had seconds. Wow. That’s nice, but those shells are still sitting in the fridge, and I think they will end up in the garbage by tomorrow. We are not much for leftovers, and that is OK with me, because leftovers means I don’t get to play in my kitchen. Whatchagonndo? That is the price of food insurance if you are someone who needs approval at the dinner table.


My mother-in-law loved the Apple Crisp. It is loaded with Cinnamon. She said, “There isn’t any Cinnamon in this, is there, because if there is, I won’t like it.” She said this with her mouth full.


“Of course not,” I said, batting my eyelashes. I shopped for this meal at Wal-Mart. They stopped carrying cinnamon at the same time they stopped stocking wire cutters.


Anyway, it was one of those days. But that night, it snowed. It was our first snow of the season. A whopping two inches. School has been canceled for two days. Gotta love laid-back Georgia. We sat around watching the kids sled down the hillside by the house through our big windows. Neat. Meanwhile I made sausages wrapped in biscuits, fluffy parmesan eggs and steaming white chocolate coco. Snow is a very good excuse for cooking too.


What is the point? There is no point. This is the meaningless drivel that makes up my days. Most is good.  The bad is interesting. And I never run out of excuses to cook. What more does anyone need out of life, other than maybe a pair of wire cutters hidden in the hen house? (Note that is “hen”, singular. You can’t have a hen’s house when you don’t have hens.) But, don’t fret. I am wishing for hens now, which means it is only a matter of time until I am complaining about being inundated with girl birds.


I’m thinking, when dealing with me, fate has a sense of humor.